Manchester Arena inquiry highlights security shortcomings

A public inquiry into the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing has criticised venue operator SMG and security provider Showsec for the measures put in place before the attack, which killed 22 people.

The attack took place on May 22, 2017 following an Ariana Grande concert at the venue, which is now known as the AO Arena under a naming rights agreement. The first volume of the inquiry focuses on the security measures in place at the arena and has been released today (Thursday).

Inquiry chairman Sir John Saunders said that there were missed opportunities to prevent the “devastating impact” of the attack, which was carried out by suicide bomber Salman Abedi. Saunders said the “loss of life and injury is highly likely to have been less” if Abedi had been identified as a threat by those “responsible for the security of the arena”.

At the time of the attack, the arena was operated by SMG, which has since merged with AEG Facilities to form ASM Global. SMG contracted Showsec, which specialises in crowd control, to provide crowd management and event security for the Ariana Grande concert.

The report published today states that SMG, Showsec and British Transport Police (BTP) are “principally responsible for the missed opportunities” and adds that there were failings by individuals across these organisations, which played a part in causing the opportunities to be missed.

The report stated SMG’s “inadequate” CCTV system left a blind spot which allowed Abedi to hide in the arena foyer for an hour before carrying out the attack.

According to Saunders, the “most striking missed opportunity” was the attempt by Christopher Wild, a member of the public, to bring his concerns about Abedi to the attention of Mohammed Agha, a Showsec employee. The report states that Wild felt he had been “fobbed off”.

The report also criticised counter terrorism training given to stewards and found that there was no BTP officer present in the foyer, something for which there was “no satisfactory explanation”.

Saunders’ report also supports the introduction of a ‘Protect Duty’ legislation, which will ensure venue operators must consider and cater for the risk of a terrorist attack.

In response to the report, SMG told the BBC that it would “continuously challenge ourselves to be better”. SMG said that, during the inquiry, experts “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” but added that “this doesn’t give us any comfort”.

A spokesperson stated: “Our guests came to the arena to enjoy a show but were met with a horrific tragedy. For that we are truly sorry.”

The second volume of Saunders’ report will address the emergency response to the attack, while the third volume will consider whether the Security Service and Counter Terrorism Police could, and should have, prevented the attack.

Image: Ivanmuyalde12/CC BY-SA 4.0/Edited for size