Manchester Arena Inquiry: Lives would have been saved if terror fears had been taken seriously, damning report finds

  • Report by Granada Reports correspondent Amy Welch

Lives may have been saved had concerns from members of the public been taken seriously on the night of the Manchester Arena Attack, a report into security failings has found.

One "striking missed opportunity" included security staff at the arena ignoring concerns from a member of the public around Salman Abedi, with the teenage staff even concerned they would appear 'racist'.

The chairman Sir John Saunders concluded it was "likely" Abedi would still have detonated his device, "but the loss of life and injury is highly likely to have been less."

He added that suicide bomber Abedi should have been identified as a threat on the night of the attack and a number of 'failures' by those responsible for security at Manchester Arena allowed Abedi to detonate his device killing 22.

Arena owners SMG, Showsec security guards and British Transport Police all came under fire for failing in their duty to protect the public.

Hearings at a public inquiry into the circumstances leading up to, and surrounding, the attack following an Ariana Grande Concert in May 2017, have been ongoing in the city since September 2020.

In the first of three reports due to be released from the inquiry, Chairman Sir John Saunders highlighted multiple 'missed opportunities' in security at Manchester Arena.

The report found Salman Abedi the Manchester Arena bomber should have been identified as a threat. Credit: PA Images

Key findings of the 196-page report:

  • There was a failure to properly consider the terrorism threat as severe and as assumption that ‘it won’t happen here’

  • Inadequate risk assessments

  • Security stewards were not properly trained to spot suspicious behaviour

  • There was a failure of those security guards to escalate concerns from members of the public

  • A CCTV blind spot allowed Abedi to hide for nearly an hour

  • No checks were carried out before people left the concert of the mezzanine area Abedi was hiding

  • There was an over reliance on a police Counter Terrorism Advisor to provide security advice

  • No British Transport Police officers were in the City Room when the blast happened

The inquiry had previously been told Christopher Wild, who was waiting with his partner to pick up his daughter from the concert, raised worries to Showsec staff about Abedi, but felt he was "fobbed off".

Sir John said Mr Wild was not the only member of the public who thought that Abedi appeared "out of place", but was the only person who acted.

He added: "The fact that Abedi was noticed by members of the public supports the conclusion that a vigilant BTP officer or Jordan Beak would have identified SA as suspicious, had they seen him."

  • Christopher Wild giving evidence to the inquiry in October

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

He said SMG and security firm Showsec failed to identify terrorism as a potential risk, despite the UK threat level being set to 'severe'.

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

"None of those directly concerned with security at the Arena on 22 May 2017 considered it a realistic possibility that a terrorist attack would happen there."

Sir John Saunders said risk assessments by SMG had descended into a box ticking exercise, while Showsec had no terrorism risk assessment at all for event goers.

He went on to add that: "SMG and Showsec did not take a number of necessary steps, some of which would have involved spending of additional money, in order to provide a sufficient level of protection against the terrorist threat."

Granada Reports correspondent Amy Welch, who has covered the Arena Inquiry from the beginning, looks at the findings:

  • British Transport Police

British Transport Police (BTP), who were in charge of patrolling the City Room where Abedi hid for almost an hour before the blast, were heavily criticised after it emerged two officers took a two-hour lunch break to get a kebab.

The report added despite being "expressly briefed" to stagger their breaks, and be back by 9pm, the instruction was ignored by BTP officers, leaving the City Room unmanned.

Sir John added that had there been a BTP officer in the room, Christopher Wild would have raised his concerns about Abedi to them. He added: "If this had occurred, a competent BTP officer would have taken action that could have saved lives."

It also failed to communicate with SMG and Showsec or give adequate consideration to the threat from terrorism, the report said.

In response to the report Chief Constable Lucy D’Orsi said they were "carefully reviewing the findings outlined".

She added: "I would like to reassure everyone that British Transport Police, as you would expect, has been reviewing procedures, operational planning and training since this dreadful attack took place in 2017.

"We continue to work closely with our emergency service colleagues, Greater Manchester Police and other experts to strengthen our multi-agency preparedness for major incidents. We are committed to ensuring our staff are supported and prepared to undertake the roles they are required to do.

“We will never forget that twenty-two people tragically lost their lives following the truly evil actions of the attacker and many received life changing injuries . They continue to be at the forefront of our thoughts as are their loved ones and all those affected by this dreadful attack."

SMG - Arena Owners

Both Showsec and Arena owners SMG have been accused of ‘penny pinching’ when it came to security.

The report concluded it did not believe safety was deliberately compromised by SMG or Showsec to save money, however they did not spend enough money to protect the public from a terrorist threat.

Sir John said: "It was inevitable that SMG and Showsec would look to save money when they could... I do not think, looking at the evidence as a whole, that a finding that safety was deliberately compromised to save money is justified."

SMG were also not aware of the CCTV blind spot where Abedi hid for nearly and hour - and this was only rectified in the summer of 2020.

The Chairman concluded that through patrolling and proper monitoring of an adequate CCTV system "it is likely the attack would have been disrupted, deterred or, at the least, fewer people would have been killed and injured."

In response to the report SMG, the operators of the Manchester Arena, said: "During the Inquiry process, the experts stated that they did not see evidence that the security operation in place at Manchester Arena was out of step with the operations being used at other comparable venues.

"In fact, the standards that we adopted were in line with published industry guidance at the time. However, this doesn’t give us any comfort.

"Our guests came to the arena to enjoy a show but were met with a horrific tragedy. For that we are truly sorry.

"All of us at Manchester Arena have learnt a lot since the events of that night and our security measures continue to evolve to reflect the threats we face today.

"Since the attack, we have further extended the security perimeter, adopted a more intensive approach to checking and searching including the use of walk through metal detectors and installed a new CCTV and access control system.

"However, out of respect for those who tragically lost their lives on the 22nd May 2017, and those whose lives changed forever, we can never be satisfied that we have done enough.

"To that end, we will be reviewing the report findings in detail and the recommendations that have been put forward. Any additional actions we should take, we will take as we continuously challenge ourselves to be better.

"Finally, we share the Chair’s admiration for those who responded so selflessly and heroically to this atrocity.”

Showsec Security Stewards

The report revealed how Showsec security stewards had not been adequately trained and therefore when a member of the public Christopher Wild, tried to raise the alarm after asking Abedi what was in his rucksack.

He tells one Showsec steward but is left feeling ‘fobbed off.’ This, Sir John says, was a missed opportunity.

He tells his a colleague, who admits thinking something seemed wrong but feared being branded a racist. However his attempts to contact the control room on his radio are deemed ‘inadequate.’ This too was a missed opportunity.

Sir John said: "Had showsec taken robust steps to ensure that all of its staff had completely their training diligently, provided a practical opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and build their confidence if it possible that either or both would have acted more decisively to escalate Christopher Wild’s concerns regarding Salman Abedi."

The Chairman concluded that had their concerns been reported to Arena, there would have been enough time to close the City room doors and divert the audience and that it’s ‘highly likely’ this would have resulted in fewer casualties.

In a statement, Showsec said: "The chairman, Sir John Saunders and the inquiry legal team have put an enormous amount of work and effort into this important public inquiry.

"Showsec has learnt lessons from the terrible events of May 22 2017 and as the chairman has acknowledged Showsec improvements are already in place.

"Having been provided with the first volume of the report, Showsec will take some time to consider both Sir John's criticisms and his recommendations before responding as he has requested.

"As always, the families are at the forefront of our minds."

What should happen now?

The report acknowledged that some changes have already been made at the Arena to allow for better protection but, while there remains a risk of further attacks, changes need to be made without delay.

  • Specific risk assessment needed for every venue

  • Robust procedures needed to counter threat of terrorism

  • Any and all suspicious behaviour by event goers or members of the public must be noted even if it leads to false alarms

  • Staff should be trained better to notice suspicious behaviour, avoiding over reliance on e-learning

  • Mandatory for Showsec stewards and British Transport Police officers to patrol areas of egress and check the mezzanine

Sir John is issuing his findings in three volumes - with the final two covering the emergency response and the experience of each of those who died, and whether the actions of Salmen Abedi could have been prevented.