Manchester Arena bombing: Security failings led to 'missed opportunities' to save lives

17 June 2021, 14:05 | Updated: 17 June 2021, 17:41

Mother of Manchester Arena bombing victim talks to LBC

Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Security failings at the Manchester Arena bombing in 2017 led to "missed opportunities" to save lives, an inquiry has found.

The first of three reports, released on Thursday afternoon, into the attack on an Ariana Grande concert also found that attacker Salman Abedi should have been seen "as a threat" on the night.

Some 22 people died after 22-year-old Abedi detonated a bomb in the foyer at the end of the show on 22 May 2017.

In his 196-page report examining security arrangements at the venue, where hundreds of others were injured, inquiry chairman Sir John Saunders found there were a number of missed opportunities to prevent or minimise the "devastating impact" of the blast.

22 people were killed following the Manchester Arena bombing
22 people were killed following the Manchester Arena bombing. Picture: PA

Figen Murrary, mother of 29-year-old Martyn Hett who died in the bombings, told LBC she was "more than happy" with the outcome of the report.

"It validated the hard work that I, alongside other people who have supported me, have carried out for the last two and a half years," she told LBC's Shelagh Fogarty.

"I am more than happy with the outcome."

She added: "The findings were difficult to hear but actually the inquiry is there as a fact-finding exercise to find out what went wrong... I'm trying always not to get emotionally too drawn into the process.

"I just want to look forward and what is important to me is that whatever went wrong, the mistakes are not repeated in the future... it is basically to know that in future when people go to a concert or a gig they will still come home at night."

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Sir John said he considered it likely the attacker would still have detonated his device if confronted "but the loss of life and injury is highly likely to have been less".

Manchester-born Abedi, of Libyan descent, walked across the City Room foyer of the venue towards the main doors and detonated his shrapnel-laden device, packed into his bulging rucksack, at 10:31pm just as thousands, including many children, left the concert.

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Hearings at the public inquiry into the circumstances leading up to and surrounding the attack have been ongoing in the city since September last year.

Sir John said: "No-one knows what Salman Abedi would have done had he been confronted before 10:31pm. We know that only one of the 22 killed entered the City Room before 10:14pm. 11 of those who were killed came from the Arena concourse doors into the City Room after 10:30pm."

He added: "The security arrangements for the Manchester Arena should have prevented or minimised the devastating impact of the attack. They failed to do so. There were a number of opportunities which were missed leading to this failure.

"Salman Abedi should have been identified on 22 May 2017 as a threat by those responsible for the security of Arena and a disruptive intervention undertaken. Had that occurred, I consider it likely that Salman Abedi would still have detonated his device, but the loss of life and injury is highly likely to have been less."

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He said Arena operator SMG, its security provider Showsec and British Transport Police (BTP), who patrolled the area adjoining Manchester Victoria rail station, were "principally responsible" for the missed opportunities.

Sir John added: "Across these organisations, there were also failings by individuals who played a part in causing the opportunities to be missed."

Sitting at Manchester Magistrates' Court, the inquiry chair said: "I have concluded that there were serious shortcomings in the security provided by those organisations which had responsibility for it and also failings and mistakes made by some individuals.

"When the mistakes and shortcomings set out in the report are considered, it needs to be at the forefront of that consideration that responsibility for what happened, and for causing so many deaths and serious injuries, lies with Salman Abedi, the suicide bomber, and his brother Hashem, who assisted him with the preparations. Hashem Abedi is now serving sentences of life imprisonment for offences including the murders of 22 people.

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"The brothers intended to cause as much harm as they could. No other person or organisation acted with the intention of causing any injury or with any idea their actions or lack of action would or could assist a suicide bomber to carry out his evil intentions."

The inquiry heard Abedi made three reconnaissance trips to the venue, adjoining Manchester Victoria railway station, before his fateful last journey and that he noticed a CCTV blind spot on the raised mezzanine level of the City Room.

Abedi, dressed in black, crouched down upstairs for nearly an hour, occasionally praying, before he walked down to the foyer.

A concerned Christopher Wild, waiting with his partner to pick up her daughter, earlier approached Abedi upstairs and said he asked him what was in his rucksack but he did not reply. When further pressed, Abedi told him he was "waiting for someone" and asked for the time.

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Mr Wild thought "nervous" Abedi looked out of place and raised his concerns at about 10:15pm with Showsec steward Mohammed Agha, who was guarding an exit door, but told the inquiry he felt "fobbed off".

It was another eight minutes before Mr Agha relayed the concerns to colleague Kyle Lawler as the former had no radio to the security control room and did not believe he could leave his post, the inquiry heard.

Retired High Court judge Sir John is issuing his findings on a rolling basis, split into three volumes.

A further report will follow on the emergency response and the experience of each of those who died, and finally an analysis of whether the atrocity committed by Abedi could have been prevented.

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The missed opportunities cited by Sir John were:

  • Abedi made a number of "hostile reconnaissance" trips before detonating the bomb. He spent 20 minutes in the City Room and hid in a CCTV "blind spot". Had it picked him up, his bulky clothing, hat and backpack would have raised suspicions and "heightened sensitivity" to his presence. The fact he left, then returned at 9:33pm to take up position for the end of the concert, was an opportunity to identify him as a potential threat, which was missed by Showsec steward Mohammed Agha. Abedi again hid in the "blind spot" area and had Mr Agha been "adequately trained", he would have reported Abedi hiding from cameras. Had the opportunity not been missed, it's likely Abedi would have been spoken to before 9:45pm - when the City Room was largely deserted. Sir John concluded he may then have detonated his bomb, or left to return later, but added: "None of these possibilities is likely to have resulted in devastation of the magnitude caused by Salman Abedi at 10:31pm." Both Mr Agha and his employer, Showsec, bore responsibility for failing to act, the report said.
  • SMG's CCTV "blind spot" was also cited as the cause of "a different but connected missed opportunity" which would have spotted Abedi hiding and could have led to him being challenged earlier.
  • An adequate patrol of the City Room by Showsec staff shortly before the concert ended, as they were contracted to carry out, was another missed opportunity, the report said. However, it was Showsec workers' practice not to check the mezzanine area where Abedi hid away from the CCTV cameras. If this had been done, Abedi would have been spotted by a patrol.
  • Sir John concluded the "most striking" missed opportunity involved a member of the public, Christopher Wild, reporting Abedi to stewards 15 minutes before the explosion. Mr Wild and his partner, Julie Whitley, were waiting to pick up her daughter and her friend. They spotted Abedi and Mr Wild was concerned with his bulging rucksack and worried he might "let a bomb off". He reported Abedi to Mohammed Agha at 10:15pm, but was "fobbed off". That Mr Agha did not take Mr Wild's concerns seriously, and act immediately by reporting the matter to supervisors, was a missed opportunity while there was still time to take "decisive action".
  • A further, connected chance to identify Abedi as suspicious, was missed very shortly after at 10:22pm, just eight minutes before the attack. Mr Agha passed on Mr Wild's concerns to another Showsec steward Kyle Lawler. The men, both then aged 18, looked at Abedi, who appeared to notice and looked "fidgety". Mr Lawler tried to pass the report through to the control room but could not get through on his radio. His efforts to raise the alarm were not "adequate", the report said and he instead left the City Room to take up his post for the end of the concert.
  • Finally, the report said that if a BTP officer had been in the City Room, then Abedi would have probably been challenged earlier. Despite instructions for at least one officer to be present in the room at the end of the concert, none were present from 10pm onwards. Mr Wild's report of suspicious behaviour would then have been passed to a BTP officer to investigate, causing Abedi either to leave the area - or detonate his device. Sir John concluded: "In either case, it is likely that fewer people would have been killed."

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