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Manchester Arena chief defends security decisions

Manchester Arena’s general manager has denied putting cost-saving ahead of audience safety at the inquest into the terrorism attack that killed 22 people in 2017.

James Allen told the Manchester Arena Inquiry into the blast that he did not believe his employer, SMG Europe (now ASM Global), had been “penny-pinching” on security prior to the terror attack.

John Cooper QC asked Allen if the arena risk level should have been classed as higher at the time of the Ariane Grande concert in May 2017 given the national threat was at ‘severe’. Allen replied “Yes, possibly.”

Cooper then asserted that SMG had not increased security due to the cost implications, a charge Allen denied.

“SMG were far more interested in trying to get efficiency than making sure their security operation was fit for purpose,” Cooper said. “You’re penny pinchers, you skimp, you don’t pay for security properly and you put people’s lives at risk.”

However, Allen agreed that SMG had embarked on cost-saving measures following the introduction of the National Living Wage in April 2016. Evidence had been submitted by Miriam Stone, head of events, who said she was asked to save a proportion of the rising costs and make savings of £250 per event on staffing costs.

The inquest also heard the firm asked for a threat level review after the 2015 Paris Bataclan attack in case “the horror… befell one of our venues”. John Sharkey, the executive vice president of SMG Europe, sent an email to the general managers of SMG arenas in the UK on the day following the incident in November 2015.

Allen had also been to a conference in which his French equivalent had talked about increasing the number of staff by 20 per cent.

However, the only change at Manchester Arena after 2015 was to keep queues short in the City Room foyer and introduce random checks for, according to Allen, a “short period of time.”

At the end of two days in the witness box, Paul Greaney QC asked Allen: “Is it reasonable to say, absent specific intelligence, that SMG assumed it would not happen to them (…)?”

Allen said: “We hoped we had put in enough measures to make us not a suitable target.”

Last week, concerns were raised about security training and communications among security staff.

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