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Manchester Arena attack: Inquiry publishes first report

There were multiple “missed opportunities” to prevent or minimise the impact of the Manchester Arena bombing May 2017, the public investigation into the attack has found.

The Manchester Arena Inquiry, led by chairman Sir John Saunders, today (17 June) published the first of three reports about the terror attack, which killed 22 people at an Ariana Grande concert on 22 May 2017. The report, which looks into security arrangements at the arena on the night of the bombing, concludes that bomber Salman Abedi should have been identified as a threat on the night of the attack.

In his 204-page report, Sir John found a number of security failures that he says would have reduced the impact of the bombing, if not prevented it completely. The “most striking missed opportunity”, the report details, came from a member of the public, who raised concerns to stewards about Abedi’s suspicious behaviour in the run-up to the attack.

Although the stewards, Mohammed Agha and Kyle Lawler, took steps to investigate the man’s concerns, with Lawler stating that he thought “there was something wrong” with Abedi’s behaviour and trying to get through to a superior on the radio, his efforts were ‘inadequate’, says Sir John.

While approach by a steward or BTP officer may have caused Abedi to detonate his device, “it is likely that fewer people would have been killed” than were on 22 May, says Sir John. (Abedi ultimately set off his bomb as fans were leaving the show.)

Other failings identified by the inquiry include the lack of British Transport Police (BTP) officers in the arena’s foyer, for which there was “no satisfactory explanation”; a CCTV blind spot near the arena’s City room that allowed Abedi to hide from security cameras; and inadequate counter-terrorism training given the stewards.

Sir John additionally found that after the Paris attack of November 2017, the arena’s operator, SMG, should have “sought to push the security perimeter out, beyond the City room” to make “hostile reconnaissance” of the arena (now called AO Arena) more difficult for Abedi.

“We are carefully reviewing the findings outlined in volume one of the Manchester Arena Inquiry report”

Among Sir John’s recommendations are passing ‘protect duty’ legislation (sometimes called ‘Martyn’s law’, after one of the victims) for large venues such as arenas which would require them to consider terrorist threats and implement further protective security and preparations.

The public inquiry was set up in September 2020 to examine the circumstances leading up to and surrounding the bombing, and followed an earlier review headed by Lord Kerslake whose findings were published in March 2018. Though part one of Manchester Arena Inquiry says it holds BTP, SMG and security provider Showsec, “principally responsible for the missed opportunities”, the Kerslake report found that SMG and Showsec’s response to the attack went “above and beyond” the call of duty.

In a statement, SMG (now part of ASM Global), says that while security around live shows, and at Manchester Arena particularly, has “changed dramatically” since the 2017 attack, the company will take on board Sir John’s recommendations after having reviewed the full report in detail.

The statement reads: “On 22 May 2017, 22 innocent people tragically lost their lives and many others were injured when a terrorist detonated a bomb. The attack shocked the nation and the devastating impact was felt far beyond the city of Manchester.

“The impact was also felt across the industry and the environment in which we all operated changed dramatically that evening.

“Since the inquiry began, questions have been asked of SMG and others about the security operations in place that evening. Throughout, we’ve been committed to working with the inquiry to help the families of victims and survivors better understand the events of that evening, as well as look at the lessons learnt.

”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.

”All of us at Manchester Arena have learnt a lot since the events of that night”

“However, out of respect for those who tragically lost their lives on 22 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.”

“The chairman, Sir John Saunders, and the inquiry legal team have put an enormous amount of work and effort into this important public inquiry,” reads a statement from Showsec. “Showsec has learnt lessons from the terrible events of 22 May 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.”

Lucy D’Orsi, chief constable of the BTP, comments: “We are carefully reviewing the findings outlined in volume one of the Manchester Arena Inquiry report today.

“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 22 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.”


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Kerslake report: SMG, Showsec praised for “above and beyond” Manchester response

Manchester Arena operator SMG Europe and security provider Showsec went “above and beyond their roles to provide humanitarian assistance” to victims of the terror attack of 22 May 2017, according to an independent inquiry into the response to the bombing, the findings of which were released today.

The Kerslake review – established by the mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, and chaired by former Civil Service head Bob Kerslake, Baron Kerslake – found significant failings on the part of the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS), whose firefighters, it says, did not arrive at the scene until two hours after the bombing.

The report also highlights communication issues between police and other agencies – a consequence of the former’s multiple “wide-ranging and testing” duties on the night – and the “complete failure” of an emergency telephony system provided by Vodafone, which caused “considerable distress on the night to families who were frantically seeking to find out more information about what had happened to their loved ones”.

Despite these failures, emergency services, arena bosses, staff, first-aiders and the wider local community were commended for their response to the attack by Salman Ramadan Abedi, a suicide bomber who detonated an improvised device outside the 21,000-cap. venue’s foyer after a show by Ariana Grande, killing 22.

Investment in emergency planning meant staff “were generally able to act with a high degree of confidence”, concluded the Kerslake-chaired panel, while “good judgement was exercised by was exercised key emergency personnel at critical points during the evening”.

“The stewards had formed a human wall to stop people going towards the smoke, which was extremely brave”

“Based on everything seen and heard, the panel believes that staff at the arena made a positive difference and that, without their contributions, the response would have been diminished,” concludes the report. “The panel recognises that SMG, Showsec and EMT-UK [first-aid] personnel went above and beyond their roles to provide humanitarian assistance, and that many of them attended to casualties in the foyer to the best of their abilities, putting aside concern for their own safety in order to try to save others.”

The report also includes several witness testimonies, many of whom praise Showsec’s stewards’ actions in the aftermath of the attack.

“When I was in the main arena, the stewards had formed a human wall to stop people going towards the smoke, which I believe was extremely brave,” said one, with another attendee adding that stewards “were fantastic and were trying to calm everyone down.”

“I felt the evacuation was done as calmly as possible considering,” said another.

Despite this, many of those who attended the show said they believed there was insufficient security at the arena, with bag searches particularly identified as being “inconsistent”. ““The security could have been better and there should have been more searches,” said one concertgoer.

However, Lord Kerslake’s panel countered criticisms of a perceived lack of security, pointing out that “the bomber had not attempted to gain entry to the actual venue, but had remained in the foyer, which was outside of the security zone”.

“There is a lot to be proud of in the response to the attack”

“The Manchester Arena attack was devastating for many thousands of people. We must think first and always of the families of those who have been bereaved, those injured and all those affected by this act of terror,” says Lord Kerslake, commenting on the publication of the report. “We have ensured that their views have been front and centre throughout this process.

“There is a lot to be proud of in the response to the attack, both for the city region of Greater Manchester and for the emergency services. The benefits of collaborative working and planning for emergencies were demonstrated to the full. And there were hundreds, if not thousands, of individual acts of bravery and selflessness.

“But it’s also vital to learn the lessons around things that did not go so well. It matters not just for the people of Greater Manchester and beyond who were caught up in the terrible events of that night, but also for places that might be caught up in such an attack in the future.

“I would like to thank all of those who contributed to this report. There was honesty, there was soul-searching, and there was a determination that their insight would benefit others in the future.”

Manchester Arena reopened on 11 September with the We Are Manchester benefit concert, headlined by Noel Gallagher.


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