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Manchester Arena security guards were alerted to bomber’s presence

Concerns have been raised about security training and communications in the continuing inquiry into the Manchester Arena terrorist attack in which 23 people died at an Ariana Grande concert in 2017.

Security guards Kyle Lawler and Mohammed Agha were each aware of Salman Abedi’s presence at the venue on May 22, 2017 after the latter was approached by a member of the public who was concerned about Abedi’s apparently suspicious behaviour some 15 minutes before the attack.

Agha yesterday (Monday) told the inquiry he alerted Lawler to the complaint about Abedi because his colleague had a radio. Lawler today claimed he tried to call his bosses on his radio but could not get through.

The conversation between Agha and Lawler took place about six minutes before Abedi detonated his device, packed with 3,000 nuts and bolts, at 10.30pm.

Paul Greaney, QC for the inquiry, asked Lawler: “When you went to work, were you aware you had to be alert to the material risk of terrorist attack?”

Lawler, who was just 18 years old at the time and earning £4.24 an hour, said: “I think I was quite naive at the time, one of those things where, yes it was a possibility, but it won’t happen to me. You see it on the news and it is always not on your doorstep.”

Lawler said he had been working for Showsec – the security contractors at the arena – since leaving school at 16, but he had never had to deal with a suspicious person before that evening. He had passed his Security Industry Association (SIA) training four months before the attack and he was a designated radio holder.

He accepted that he had been trained in how to spot similar behaviour to that exhibited by Abedi, who appeared to be hiding in an area at the back of the City Room foyer at the Arena complex.

The inquiry heard on Monday that Agha had first noticed Abedi just before 9pm as he arrived in the City Room foyer. He was approached by a member of the public, Christopher Wild, who was waiting for his 14-year-old daughter and was concerned about Abedi’s behaviour around 15 minutes before the bomb was detonated.

Agha said: “He (Wild) came up to me, walked over to me and mentioned, ‘there’s a suspicious person sat behind you, he’s got a backpack. He’s said to me that he’s waiting for someone’.

“I would not say he was panicked or anything, he just said it to me in an ordinary way.”

Barrister Greaney asked Agha: “You observed he had a large backpack that might have something in, that he might be there to cause harm. Was one scenario that he might be a suicide bomber?”

Agha responded: “I did think about it but it wasn’t in my head to fully go into that situation. There were too many scenarios in my head. I was unclear of the situation.”

He said nothing was said to him during his briefing before work that evening about the threat from terrorism in the UK.

He had completed an online course called “Counter-terrorism At Events” a year earlier in just under three hours but the key section, which included a 12-minute video called “Eyes Wide Open” was done in just five minutes.

The Manchester Arena Inquiry was established in October 2019 to investigate the deaths of the victims of the attack. The inquiry hearings commenced on September 7 with testimony from the victims’ families.

In March, Hasham Abedi, the younger brother of Salman Abedi, was found guilty of murdering 22 people through helping to plan the atrocity. In August, he was sentenced to 55 years in prison. The inquiry continues.

Image: Matthew Hartley/CC BY 2.0/Edited for size