FIRE crews could and should have been at the Manchester Arena bombing scene in about four minutes rather than more than two hours later, the region's then chief fire officer has said.

Peter O'Reilly told the public inquiry into the May 2017 terror attack he realised he had personally failed in the response when he saw TV images in his command room of ambulances arriving at about midnight.

He said the principal reason for the delay was "communications or lack thereof", which included failings by various agencies and from individuals within Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS).

Mr O'Reilly said it left GMFRS operating and making decisions in an "information vacuum".

Paul Greaney QC, counsel to the inquiry, asked: "Do you include yourself as having failed in any respect that night?"

Mr O'Reilly replied: "Absolutely. The obvious is always easiest to explain. When I went into the command room that night and spoke to the individuals, there was a mixture of fright, a mixture of disappointment and a mixture of confusion is the only way I could describe it.

"When we eventually got the television set on it was obvious to everybody in the room that the ambulance service was there and I failed at that point."

Mr Greaney said: "You mean that you failed to ensure immediate deployment at that point?"

The witness said: "Yes."

Mr O'Reilly moved to GMFRS in 2011 after he had joined the service in Northern Ireland in 1990, where he had been an incident commander at a number of major incidents, the inquiry was told.

Following the bombing on May 22 2017, he had a discussion with Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, in which he told him "that as a firefighter it would kill me if I found out that we could have saved more people by getting there quicker but I also know that the FBU (Fire Brigades Union) and the HSE (Health and Safety Executive) would have had me in the dock if firefighters had been sent directly to the scene and had been killed by a terrorist".

Mr O'Reilly told Mr Greaney that was "a statement of fact" but denied that fear ever featured in his thoughts on the night while making decisions.

Mr Greaney asked whether the fire and rescue service had a different approach to the balancing of risk than other emergency services which went into the City Room foyer soon after Salman Abedi detonated his bomb at 10.31pm and killed 22 people and injured hundreds.

Mr O'Reilly said: "I don't because GMFRS and our partners, we missed many opportunities to be there immediately. All I can say to you is this - I am 100% sure that if you would have had firefighters on that scene at that time, every one of them bar none would have been in that City Room."

Mr O'Reilly, who retired from GMFRS in February 2018, said the fire and rescue service could and should have been at the arena in about four minutes instead of arriving outside Victoria rail station, adjoining the arena, some two hours and six minutes after the blast.

Mr Greaney said: "Even then, as you will know, firefighters didn't enter the station for a further 13 minutes and even then did so despite of command and not because of it. Do you agree that represents not just a failure in response but a gross failure in response?"

Mr O'Reilly replied: "If I could find stronger words I would use them but yes."

Mr O'Reilly will continue to give evidence on Tuesday.