Manchester Arena’s operators today blamed their security contractor for failing to spot terrorist Salman Abedi in the hour he waited before launching his attack.
US-owned multinational SMG said contractor Showsec should have sent stewards to confront him before locking down the venue.
Abedi killed 22 men, women and children when he blew himself up in a suicide bomb attack in the arena foyer at the end of an Ariana Grande concert in May 2017.
Andrew O’Connor QC for SMG, dismissed suggestions the fanatic could have been spotted by a CCTV operator if he had not been in a blind spot.
He insisted there was nothing about Salman Abedi’s dress or conduct that would have made it ‘even reasonably likely’ he would have been clocked.
But in a closing statement he declared the inquiry should conclude ‘with a high degree of confidence’ that, had a Showsec supervisor gone up to the mezzanine level of the City Room foyer in the course of his final check at about 10.15pm ‘he would have both seen Salman Abedi and considered him sufficiently suspicious to take further action.’
The public inquiry into the Manchester Arena bombing carried out by Abedi (pictured)
This was the blind spot where Abedi was loitering before he carried out his attack
Mr O’Connor said such a supervisor ‘would have walked past Salman Abedi’ and unlike a CCTV operator, he would have seen him close up and would have been able to speak to him.’
‘There is ample evidence from those who were in close proximity to Abedi at about that time that he looked nervous and suspicious,’ he said.
Had there been a supervisor there, there was also ‘a real likelihood’ that, the parent who raised concerns with a junior steward would have raised his concerns about Abedi with their supervisor.
The same ‘applies equally to the presence there of any of the British Transport Police officers on duty that night’ who failed to patrol the arena foyer, Mr O’Connor said.
SMG, now called ASM Global, also defended their security provisions, saying the ‘consistent advice’ they received from Greater Manchester Police was that the security arrangements in the City Room were ‘adequate’.
There were frequent visits and discussions from their police counter-terrorism security adviser from 2014 onwards and ‘steadily increasing scores,’ Mr O’Connor said.
The inquiry has heard evidence on the police and ambulance response to the terror attack
Police’s desperate calls for help as only one medic visited terror site in first 43 minutes
PC Matthew Hill who was in the City Room foyer at 11.02pm, where the explosion had taken place half an hour earlier, and was heard on his radio saying to a colleague: ‘We need paramedics, like f***** yesterday.’
At 11.08pm, a PC Mark Kay walked over to his colleague PC Michael Ball and said: ‘There is nobody we can move really is there?’
PC Ball replied: ‘Not really no, they are all really badly injured. If we start moving people, we need paramedics basically.’
Sgt Kam Hare of the Greater Manchester Police Tactical Aid Unit entered the City Room at 10.50pm and recalled ‘shouting over the radio for paramedics to enter the City Room.’
There has been ‘no evidence’ of Ken Upham proposing changes to the security operation in the City Room that were rejected or ignored by SMG, Mr O’Connor said.
‘At no point did Mr Upham enter any note of caution about his ability to give such broad advice, or about SMG relying on it.’
Mr O’Connor described Mr Upham as a ‘highly trained expert’ who ‘had not entered any reservation about the scope of the advice that he could give, far less making any suggestion that SMG should seek additional advice elsewhere.’
‘It was, we say, entirely reasonable for SMG to rely upon the CTSAs’ advice on the identified attack methodologies and other matters to inform its assessments and baseline measures. ‘
Abedi would still have blown himself up and killed many of those around him, even if he had been confronted as he lay in wait to launch his attack, police have told the inquiry.
British Transport Police officers failed to patrol the City Room foyer where Salman Abedi launched his attack at the end of the concert, despite instructions to do so from superiors.
Two officers drove five miles to get a kebab during a two-hour meal break on the night of attack while two others took a 90-minute meal break.
Abedi killed 22 men, women and children when he blew himself up in a suicide bomb attack at the end of an Ariana Grande concert in May 2017.
Austin Welch, on behalf of the victims’ families, told the inquiry that British Transport Police had become ‘institutionally complacent almost to the point of apathy.’
In closing submissions on security at the arena, Mr Welch said the officers who were policing the arena were ‘woefully lacking in experience, seniority, instruction or supervision.’
‘Their role was reduced to little more than directing people to the exits and trains at the end, rather like ushers in a cinema,’ he said.
John Cooper QC, for 12 of the victims’ families, criticised ‘distasteful’ and ‘condescending’ written submissions on behalf of the force, in which they said the inquiry had ‘deliberately indulged a certain amount of speculation, partly in an effort to encourage free expression of ideas and feelings, perhaps for therapeutic reasons.’
But Patrick Gibbs QC, for BTP, suggested their presence in the City Room foyer would have made no difference.
Had an officer been on the mezzanine level where Abedi, a worried parent called Chris Wild, who reported him to a junior steward, ‘may very well have reported his concerns to that officer.’
‘What that officer may have done with that report is very hard to say, but they may have spoken to the bomber,’ Mr Gibbs said.
‘What may have happened thereafter is easy to imagine but impossible to say,’ he added.
‘It may have depended on the bomber’s state of mind, his resourcefulness, his instructions, the disposition of people within the room at that moment, and so much else besides.’
The officer could have been dissatisfied by the bomber’s responses, and that could have turned into a ‘concrete suspicion’ which he thought should be passed on to SMG staff in the control room, to stop people leaving the Ariana Grande concert.
‘What the bomber may have done in this period, as the conversation continued, as radio messages were passed to and fro is hard to say,’ Mr Gibbs said.
‘One thing, you may think, is most unlikely to have changed, in that period is his determination to die and to kill as many innocent people as possible.
‘And who may have been where exactly at that time, you have the stills which show the number of people waiting in the City Room in the minutes before the main body of the audience emerged.
‘None of them is many steps away from where the bomber had been sitting.’
Mr Gibbs told the inquiry: ‘What it comes to, we submit, is if the preceding events had gone differently there would have been a different outcome, but what exactly that outcome would have been, and how many people would have died, and how many would have been seriously injured, and who they would have been is impossible with any confidence to say.’
Nevertheless, Mr Gibbs said it was ‘reasonable’ for Sgt Gareth Wilson to expect that if his officers were ‘unavoidably detained’ they would ‘inform him of the difficulty.’
‘I know that you will take into account that there may be a difference between what it is reasonable for a supervisor to expect of casual security staff on the one hand and of full-time highly trained professional people on the other,’ he added.
Closing submissions on arena security continue tomorrow.