It should have been ‘crystal clear’ that Manchester Arena could be vulnerable to a suicide bomber security experts have told the inquiry on the first day of evidence.
The experts – commissioned by the inquiry into the 22 deaths on May 22, 2017 – said officials should have known that the area where bomber Salman Abedi detonated his backpack device was the most-likely target.
A tabletop exercise in June 2016 had specifically highlighted that the City Room foyer might be the target for an attack.
Nevertheless, there was no joint plan between SMG – the arena operator – and British Transport Police, who patrolled the area about what to do, the inquiry heard.
Abedi was able to spend an hour waiting in the foyer for the concert to end with his bomb on his back, without being quizzed by security or police.
Colonel Richard Latham – who had previously been responsible for security at the House of Commons and O2 Arena in London – was commissioned by the inquiry to offer expert advice on the arena security.
Asked if there was a threat from a ‘person-borne improvised explosive device’ (PBIED), Col Latham said: ‘That should have been crystal clear.’
It should have been ‘crystal clear’ that Manchester Arena could be vulnerable to a suicide bomber security experts have told the inquiry on the first day of evidence. Pictured: Police at the scene on the night of the attack
He said an attack was more likely outside the arena than inside it because of the security at the door.
He added: ‘The City Room, evidence says, was the main entrance with the highest flow, rate of footfall, in ingress and egress.
‘Therefore it could be predicted that was where the highest, most densely packed target predictably was.
‘Compared to other entrances, in that respect it was known to be different.’
A table-top exercise called Operation Sherman had considered the risk of a marauding firearms attack ending with a suicide bomb attack in the City Room.
David Bamaung, a former police officer who worked as a counter-terrorism security advisor in Glasgow, also contributed to the expert report.
Paul Greaney QC, counsel to the inquiry, asked: ‘Was there material risk of PBIED attack?’
‘Yes there was a material risk,’ Mr Bamaung said.
The inquiry was told that following the attack on Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament two months earlier, the Joint Terrorism and Analysis Centre (JTAC) at MI5 had raised the threat level to ‘severe’, meaning an attack was ‘highly likely.’
Victims (top row left to right) off-duty police officer Elaine McIver, 43, Saffie Roussos, 8, Sorrell Leczkowski, 14, Eilidh MacLeod, 14, (second row left to right) Nell Jones, 14, Olivia Campbell-Hardy, 15, Megan Hurley, 15, Georgina Callander, 18, (third row left to right), Chloe Rutherford,17, Liam Curry, 19, Courtney Boyle, 19, and Philip Tron, 32,
Victims (fourth row left to right) John Atkinson, 26, Martyn Hett, 29, Kelly Brewster, 32, Angelika Klis, 39, (fifth row left to right) Marcin Klis, 42, Michelle Kiss, 45, Alison Howe, 45, and Lisa Lees, 43 (fifth row left to right) Wendy Fawell, 50 and Jane Tweddle, 51
However, the operator of the arena, believed it ‘shared’ responsibility for the security of the City Room foyer, where the attack took place with the police, the inquiry was told.
SMG had not agreed a plan on how to deal with threat of an attack with either the police or the private security firm they employed to operate on the ground, the hearing was told.
The operator said that the City Room, in contrast to the arena itself, was a ‘public space’ and added: ‘We do not accept we had sole responsibility for security there. The police also had such responsibility.’
The inquiry has heard that British Transport Police were specifically tasked with patrolling the foyer on the night of the attack – but were in Victoria Station nearby for most of the hour that Abedi was waiting for the concert to end.
Col Latham said he would expect a formal plan to exist ‘without out a doubt.’
Salman Abedi was able to spend an hour waiting in the foyer for the concert to end with his bomb on his back, without being quizzed by security or police
He added: ‘Knowing who’s in charge and knowing what to do is important. There was a high degree of threat and there was a need to anticipate an adverse event and decide what jointly to do together.
‘I would expect all crowded places to sit down with their police to say, would there be an officer at ingress and egress?’
He also said there ought to have been ‘proper planning and assessment of risk on a joint basis’ he said and ‘given the threat level and advice from [police] that ought to have been obvious.’
‘I might direct where patrolling is to take place and when patrolling should take place, what actions should be taken in certain circumstances.
‘It did not override police procedures but it meant we could safely coordinate to deliver events at my venue.’
Two members of ShowSec, who delivered the security on behalf of SMG, had their attention drawn to Abedi, the bomber, but did nothing to intervene.
The company has told the inquiry that its staff were ‘casually employed, moderately paid and from different backgrounds with a range of experience.’
Mr Greaney asked: ‘What would you say if ultimately evidence reveals that members of staff for Showsec lacked experience or motivation?’
Col Latham said: ‘My comment would be that knowing security industry well as I do, you often have young and inexperienced staff carrying out security roles and what is important is that they need to be well supported by caring supervisors who use carrot rather than stick and take care of those who are inexperienced.’
Mr Bamaung told the inquiry that ‘common sense would dictate that there was joint plan.’
‘Our understanding is there was no formal agreement and possibly a lack of appreciation of each other’s role.’
He said he would have expected BTP to have had a presence in the City Room ‘throughout the night’ for ‘security and for public reassurance as people leave the event.’
‘That is the area where there was the largest congregation of crowds when leaving the event,’ he added.
Earlier in the inquest, it was revealed that firefighters were held back from the Manchester Arena blast scene for two hours because the force was trained for the wrong kind of terror attack.
Station Master Andy Berry appeared to allow his ‘decision-making’ to be influenced by the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service’s training for ‘multicentred marauding attacks’ – rather than suicide bombers.
Attacks of this nature involve an assailant swiftly moving through an area with the aim of killing or injuring as many people as possible – usually using a knife or gun – in a short space of time.
Because of this, Berry did not let firefighters enter the scene to rescue victims for two hours because he presumed ‘other components to the attack were likely’.
This in turn ‘contributed to a failure to challenge and interrogate information that tended to confirm that scenario’, lawyer for the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) Andrew Warnock said.
Members of the public had to rescue injured concert-goers at the scene as firefighters were not there to rescue victims themselves.
Similar assumptions about a rampant gunman stopped paramedics arriving at the scene during the London Bridge terror attack in 2017.
Salman Abedi killed himself and 22 innocent people when he detonated a huge bomb in his backpack as concert-goers were leaving an Ariana Grande concert at the arena on May 22, 2017. Hundreds of others were also seriously injured.
The Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service apologised for the two-hour delay in rescuing victims – but blamed ‘silence’ from the police on the night of the bombing for causing it.
They said a lack of communication led fire service bosses to assume there was a continuing marauding terror strike and so firefighters were kept back.
There was an almost identical communications failure at a notorious terror training exercise at the Trafford Centre some 12 months before the Arena attack which delayed firefighters and paramedics reaching the scene for 90 minutes.
The drill, named the Winchester Accord, replicated a marauding terrorist firearms attack, similar to the 2008 attack in Mumbai.
Police chiefs had to apologise when the man playing the suicide bomber shouted ‘Allahu Akbar’ as he ‘detonated’ his fake bomb at the beginning of the drill, which was filmed by the media.
There was an almost identical communications failure at a notorious terror training exercise at the Trafford Centre some 12 months before the Arena attack which delayed firefighters and paramedics reaching the scene for 90 minutes. Pictured: A picture from the simulated terror attack
The 2016 drill, named the Winchester Accord, replicated a marauding terrorist firearms attack, similar to the 2008 attack in Mumbai. Pictured: Mumbai gunman Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasa
He said police were supposed to declare Operation Plato – where there is suspected to be a marauding terrorist – during the Trafford Centre training exercise which would then have triggered a response from the fire and ambulance services.
Mr Warnock earlier said neither the fire service nor specialist ambulance crews received any contact from GMP during the drill and that ‘attempts to contact the police commanders proved unsuccessful’.
‘There are obvious, striking, parallels with what happened on the night of the arena incident,’ Mr Warnock said.
On the night of the Manchester Arena attack, the North West Fire Control did not provide ‘sufficient information’ to the Manchester fire service, their lawyer Robert Smith QC, admitted.
Station Master Andy Berry appeared to allow his ‘decision-making’ to be influenced by the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service’s training for ‘multicentred marauding attacks’. Salman Abedi (pictured) on the night of the attack
The control room only received three calls all night, from the police, ambulance and one member of the public, and did nothing to try and get more information, he revealed in in submissions to the inquiry.
The control room had procedures for an unexploded bomb but none for a terrorist bomb attack, the inquiry was told.
When an NWFC operator rang the on-call liaison officer to tell him there was a bomb attack, she added: ‘Obviously we are not mobilising at the moment.’
Station Master Berry, the fire officer in charge on the night, said he would speak to the police force duty officer, but he never got through.
In the meantime, he vetoed a police rendezvous near Victoria Station, saying it was too close to the site of the attack, and instead chose a fire station two miles away.
Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (a fire engine at the scene) has apologised for taking two hours to respond to the Manchester Arena terror attack
He was at home, 22 miles from the fire station at Philips Park, but decided to drive there, leaving at 10.47pm, and taking just under an hour to cover the journey, arriving at 11.41pm.
His journey was hampered by delays from roadworks and ‘traffic difficulties’ on the way and while he made the trip no one knew who was in charge, the inquiry was told.
Eventually the Chief Fire Officer, Peter O’Reilly arrived at the fire service headquarters at 11.50pm, an hour and 19 minutes after the attack, and discovering that no fire appliances had been mobilised to the arena.
He used his ‘personal contacts’ with senior ambulance officials to find out what was happening but the fire engines were not deployed for another 40 minutes.
Mr Warnock said GMFRS had ‘planned and trained extensively’ for terrorist and mass casualty incidents.
‘We would like the bereaved families to know that prior to the attack GMFRS had taken the risk of terrorist attacks and the need to respond to mass casualty events extremely seriously,’ he said.
Manchester Arena bomber Salman Abedi (pictured) was brought to the attention of M15 on at least 18 occasions before the 2017 terror attack, a public inquiry has heard
‘That it had done so makes it all the more disappointing for all involved that the organisation’s response fell so far short when the Manchester Arena bomb happened.’
The fire service response was driven by a ‘misinformed and skewed understanding of what was happening.’
Key personnel made incorrect assumptions about what a terrorist attack ‘would likely involve’ which led them to assume that the bomb was ‘one part of an on-going terrorist attack.’
‘Silence from partner agencies as the night went on fed the assumption that the police were dealing with an on-going armed threat,’ Mr Warnock said.
He told the inquiry: ‘In relation to the fire service response on the night, we say at the outset that GMFRS accepts and agrees with the conclusions of the fire and rescue expert that its initial actions in response to the Arena bombing were neither adequate nor effective.
‘It is unacceptable that it took over two hours for the fire and rescue service to attend the arena. On behalf of GMFRS we would like to say to the families and victims that we are sorry that this happened.’