How police ‘missed opportunities’ to prevent Manchester Arena bombing
Inquiry into terror attack that claimed 22 lives reveals litany of security failings
The “devastation” of the Manchester Arena bombing might have been avoided but for “serious shortcomings” in security, an inquiry into the terror attack has concluded.
In a newly published report, inquiry chair John Saunders blames “failings by individuals” for “missed opportunities” to detect and stop bomber Salman Abedi, the Islamist radical who killed 22 people in the blast at an Ariana Grande concert on 22 May 2017.
Saunders has outlined a “litany” of failures by venue operators SMG, security firm Showsec and British Transport Police (BTP), says The Times - failures that include taking unauthorised two-hour meal breaks and ignoring members of the public who tried to raise the alarm.
Abedi went to the arena several times to “carry out hostile reconnaissance” in the run-up to the bombing, visiting on 18 and 21 May and also the afternoon on the day of the attack, the inquiry report says.
Although arena operator SMG and security firm Showsec “had experience of identifying and responding to potential hostile reconnaissance effectively”, the system for passing on information about suspicious behaviour was “insufficiently robust”, the report continues.
If the Showsec staff on duty at the time, Kyle Lawler and Mohammed Agha - then aged 18 and 19 respectively - had been aware of previous reports of suspicious activity, “it would have increased the possibility” of Abedi being spotted.
Inquiry chair Saunders also notes that SMG could have extended the permitted security perimeter from the entrance doors of the arena to the City Room, the foyer where the bomb detonated. “Had permission to push out the perimeter been granted, an attack in the City Room would have been much less likely,” the report says.
Absence of officers
Despite five officers being assigned to the arena on the night of the attack, “there was a complete absence of any BTP officer in the City Room” in the half hour before Abedi detonated the bomb, at 10.31pm, according to the report. And no officers were policing the public areas of the venue between 8.58pm and 9.36pm.
The report found that BTP officers “took breaks substantially and unjustifiably” longer than their authorised one hour. Instructions to stagger breaks between 7.30pm and 9pm - when as The Times notes, “younger children could be leaving the venue” - were also ignored.
The public inquiry into the attack had previously heard how two officers on duty at the concert, PC Jessica Bullough and PCSO Mark Renshaw, had taken a “two-hour-and-nine-minute dinner break to get a kebab five miles from the arena”, The Telegraph reports. Bullough “has since admitted that were she present on her shift as she should have been, she would have likely stopped Abedi and asked him what was in his bag”, the newspaper adds.
Saunders' report says Abedi chose an “obvious hiding place” in a CCTV blindspot of the arena City Room foyer, having “no doubt identified this area during his hostile reconnaissance”.
“Had the area been covered by CCTV so that there was no blind spot, it is likely this behaviour by SA [Salman Abedi] would have been identified as suspicious by anyone monitoring the CCTV,” the reports says.
Giving evidence to the inquiry last October, Showsec security guard Agha said that he had noticed Abedi in the City Room, but only because he “liked the look” of Abedi's trainers, as The Manchester Evening News reported at the time.
The inquiry report says that a “further missed opportunity” to spot Abedi in the half hour before the bomb detonated “arose from the absence of an adequate security patrol by Showsec at any stage during this time”.
The supervisor charged with carrying out “pre-egress” checks, Jordan Beak, did so “only very briefly”, patrolling for about ten minutes, during which he just “looked towards the staircases up to the mezzanine area”, where Abedi was sitting.
“He did not consider them a very important part of the check because it was not an egress route,” the report continues. “Mr Beak did not go up on to the mezzanine area and so he did not see Abedi. This was a significant missed opportunity.”
Concerns ‘fobbed off’
Saunders wrote that the “most striking missed opportunity, and the one that is likely to have made a significant difference”, was an attempt by a member of the public to raise concerns about Abedi after becoming suspicious about the bomber's large and obviously heavy backpack.
Christopher Wild told the inquiry last year how he spotted Abedi while waiting for his 14-year-old daughter to leave the concert.
According to the BBC, Wild recalled how he approached Abedi and said: “It doesn't look very good you know, what you see with bombs and such, you with a rucksack in a place like this, what are you doing?” Abedi reportedly told Wild that he was “waiting for somebody, mate”, before asking what time it was.
Wild alerted security guard Agha about his suspicions around fifteen minutes before the blast. But according to the inquiry report, Agha “did not take Christopher Wild’s concerns as seriously as he should have”. Wild felt that he had been “fobbed off” by the guard, who claimed to already be aware of Abedi. Agha is said to have made “inadequate” efforts to flag down his supervisor or pass on the message via his colleague Lawler, who had a radio.
And although Agha did share Wild’s concerns with Lawler, the latter “felt conflicted about what to do” and “stated he was fearful of being branded a racist and would be in trouble if he got it wrong”, the report says. Lawler ultimately made an attempt to contact a senior supervisor through the radio, but couldn’t get through, “and made no further efforts to communicate what he had been told to anyone else”.
“The inadequacy of Mr Lawler’s response was a product of his failure to take Mr Wild’s concern and his own observations sufficiently seriously,” Saunders wrote. “Mr Wild’s behaviour was very responsible. He stated that he formed the view that [Abedi] might ‘let a bomb off'.
“That was sadly all too prescient and makes all the more distressing the fact that no effective steps were taken as a result of his efforts.”