Sniffer dogs and more CCTV among improvements made to security at Manchester Arena

22 people died in the Manchester Arena attack in May 2017

The introduction of sniffer dogs and more CCTV cameras are among the improvements made to the Manchester Arena since the 2017 terror attack.

Gary Simpson, security director for SMG Europe, which runs venues including the Arena, told an inquiry into the atrocity he is "more than happy and comfortable with the type of arrangements we now have in place".

The hearing resumed at Manchester Magistrates' Court on Monday following a Christmas break.

When asked by counsel to the inquiry, Nicholas de la Poer QC, whether a "CCTV blind-spot" at the Arena had been addressed, Mr Simpson said it had.

Mr Simpson, appointed to his role in April 2018 after it was created in light of the attack, told the inquiry more cameras were fitted last summer and any blind spots now have "mitigation plans" in place.

The director, who formerly worked in the royal military police and as deputy head of security at Manchester United Football Club, added: "All CCTV systems have areas which are not covered.

"But every venue has got plans as to which areas are covered and which aren't covered, and whether they present a risk at different stages so that mitigation is put in place where necessary."

Salman Abedi hid in a blindspot at Manchester Arena in the hours before the attack

Witnesses to the attack previously told the inquiry suicide bomber Salman Abedi looked nervous while hiding in a CCTV blind spot on a mezzanine floor in the Arena's City Room.

But Andrew O'Connor QC, also representing SMG, previously said it was "inherently unlikely" CCTV surveillance would have flagged Abedi as suspicious.

Mr Simpson said SMG began "the process of acquiring canine support services" in February 2021.

Police dogs searched for secondary devices among abandoned items in the arena following the explosion, but Mr Simpson said having them present ahead of the concert would have provided "reassurance" to the public.

He told the inquiry: "If you scrutinise what happened on the night, I think detection dogs would have provided a good level of reassurance and for me it's a key learning that we identified."

Mr Simpson said the development of metal detection technology tailored to entertainment venues will also improve security at large venues.

He said: "Over the last three years there has been a huge growth in artificial intelligence-driven security technology.

"Most technology that is currently used at entertainment events has predominantly been designed for airport usage, prison usage, court usage, those types of things, and it's made to squeeze into an environment of an entertainment venue - it doesn't quite fit.

"Now that technology companies have realised that, they have produced products which are used for weapon detection systems rather than just metal detection systems."

Assistant Chief Constable for the British Transport Police, Sean O'Callaghan, also told the inquiry on Monday police reforms in light of the bombing include equipping all front-line officers with tourniquets.

The inquiry also heard there is no minimum number of security staff required at entertainment venues like the Manchester Arena.

 Unlike football grounds, there is no oversight of the number of staff that such venues have on duty for safety and security purposes, the inquiry was told.

Sir John Saunders, chair of the long running Manchester Arena Inquiry

Sir John Saunders, the inquiry chairman asked: "Do we not want somebody who is going to check that the right number of stewards are being provided for each event for security purposes? 

 "You may get occasions when an event operator will simply, because he wants to save money, not provide the necessary number of stewards for safety purposes, so who's going to police that?"

Mark Harding, the managing director of the Showsec, which provides the stewards at Manchester Arena, said there were "different functioning areas and interfaces between those areas" which affected the number of stewards needed.

 "There are just so many different variables inside an event," he added. "Taking the operating plan and the risk assessment and determining how many staff are required and what the calibre and layout of the staff and the construct of those staff as well."

The inquiry was told that better training had led to more reports by stewards of suspicious activity which was now referred straight to police and logged on a system called Halo.

But the hearing was also warned that smaller security companies have no access to police advisors who can tell them about counter-terrorism measures.

 Mr Simpson said the network of counter-terrorism security advisors (CTSA), run by the police, was "second to none compared to what is available elsewhere in Europe."

 But he added: "There's some gaps that I see within in the system. One being, if you are a security provider, particularly if you're a smaller provider who is not linked to a venue, you could possibly not have any CTSA engagement at all."

Nick de la Poer QC, for the inquiry, said the inquiry was determined to learn lessons, adding:

"It is a criticism all too often levelled at public inquiries that after all the time, money and effort that has gone into them, nothing is done as a result, that reports get filed away and everyone moves on with no changes being made. 

"Every step must and will be taken to ensure that it does not happen here."