Manchester Arena bombing report: security missed opportunities to prevent or minimise the “devastating impact"

The first report into the Manchester Arena bombing which killed 22 people and injured hundreds more, has slammed "serious shortcomings in security".

Thursday, 17th June 2021, 2:32 pm
Updated Thursday, 17th June 2021, 3:43 pm
Inquiry chairman Sir John Saunders

Manchester Arena suicide bomber Salman Abedi should have been identified as a threat on the night of the attack by those in charge of security, a public inquiry into the May 2017 attack has found.

In his report examining security arrangements at the venue where 22 people were murdered and hundreds were injured at the end of an Ariana Grande concert, inquiry chairman Sir John Saunders found there were a number of missed opportunities to prevent or minimise the “devastating impact”.

Sir John said he considered it likely Salman Abedi would still have detonated his device if confronted “but the loss of life and injury is highly likely to have been less.”

Jane Tweddle, a 51-year-old receptionist from Blackpool, Georgina Callander, an 18-year-old Runshaw College student, Michelle Kiss, a 45-year-old mum-of-three from Whalley and eight-year-old Saffie Roussos from Leyland all lost their lives.

Sir John said: “No-one knows what Salman Abedi would have done had he been confronted before 10.31pm. We know that only one of the 22 killed entered the City Room before 10.14pm. Eleven of those who were killed came from the Arena concourse doors into the City Room after 10.30pm.”

He added: “”The security arrangements for the Manchester Arena should have prevented or minimised the devastating impact of the attack. They failed to do so. There were a number of opportunities which were missed leading to this failure.

“Salman Abedi should have been identified on 22nd May 2017 as a threat by those responsible for the security of Arena and a disruptive intervention undertaken. Had that occurred, I consider it likely that Salman Abedi would still have detonated his device, but the loss of life and injury is highly likely to have been less.”

Victims Jane Tweddle, Georgina Callander, Michelle Kiss and Saffie Roussos

He said Arena operator SMG, its security provider Showsec and British Transport Police, who patrolled the area adjoining Manchester Victoria rail station, were “principally responsible” for the missed opportunities.

He added: “Across these organisations, there were also failings by individuals who played a part in causing the opportunities to be missed.”

Sitting at Manchester Magistrates’ Court, Manchester Arena Inquiry chair Sir John Saunders said: “I have concluded that there were serious shortcomings in the security provided by those organisations which had responsibility for it and also failings and mistakes made by some individuals.

“When the mistakes and shortcomings set out in the report are considered, it needs to be at the forefront of that consideration that responsibility for what happened, and for causing so many deaths and serious injuries, lies with Salman Abedi, the suicide bomber, and his brother Hashem, who assisted him with the preparations. Hashem Abedi is now serving sentences of life imprisonment for offences including the murders of 22 people.

Floral tributes after the attack in Manchester

“The brothers intended to cause as much harm as they could. No other person or organisation acted with the intention of causing any injury or with any idea their actions or lack of action would or could assist a suicide bomber to carry out his evil intentions.”

Sir John continued: “I was urged by everybody to avoid looking for scapegoats. I have not looked to blame anyone but where, having considered the evidence, I considered that individuals have fallen below a proper standard in carrying out their important roles in protecting concertgoers, I have said so.

“It should be remembered in relation to a number of the individuals who are subject to criticism that, once the bomb had been detonated, they went as quickly as they could into the City Room where the bomb had been detonated and did what they could to assist the victims.

“Some will say that if you look at any incident such as this in the degree of detail that I have you will inevitably find things that have gone wrong.

“That may be so, but when you are considering an event which has caused as much harm and suffering as this attack it is only right that the circumstances should be scrutinised with the greatest care.”

The operators:

SMG, operators of the Manchester Arena, said it was “truly sorry”.

A statement from the firm said: “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.”

They added: "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.

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

British Transport Police response:

The Inquiry had heard that uniformed officers from British Transport Police were tasked to patrol Victoria station, including the City Room of the Arena, but when the bomb was detonated there were none in the foyer despite instructions that one officer should be positioned there at the end of the concert.

Responding to the report, BTP Chief Constable Lucy D’Orsi said: “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.”

GMPs response to the publication of Volume One of the Manchester Arena Inquiry:

Chief Constable Stephen Watson QPM said: "We welcome the publication of Volume One of the Manchester Arena Inquiry following what has been a very detailed and thorough process.

"Greater Manchester Police has sought to support the Manchester Arena Inquiry and its evidence gathering throughout. We have already identified and made many positive improvements to the service we provide as evidence has been heard and this work continues.

"As an organisation, we will always do our utmost to keep the people of Greater Manchester safe so any opportunity for us to improve our ability to do so is one that we will strongly embrace.

"We will now need some time to reflect on the report in detail and carefully consider the recommendations that have been made. We will also continue to closely support the Public Inquiry for the remaining chapters and, as they have been from the very start, our thoughts today remain with all those whose lives were devastated by this horrible attack."

What the families say:

John Cooper QC, who represents a number of bereaved families, said: “It is a damning report about the level of security at the arena and not just a matter of turning on 16 and 17-year-olds who were doing their job.

“There were poor risk assessments, areas not being patrolled and a matter for the British Transport Police who were criticised for their attention to detail.

“These are serious and damning observations being made against all those who were responsible for keeping young people safe.

“The report itself families are content with, because they are looking for accountability and the chair has done that.

“But the report is based on a serious tragedy, so while the families are content, it’s been a difficult day.”

He added: “Things that should have been done were not done and it’s important for the future that organisations do their job with diligence for people who visit their venues and expect to be kept safe.”

Government response:

Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “The Government continues to take action in response to the terrorist threat and earlier this year launched a consultation on a new Protect Duty which will introduce a legal requirement for public places to ensure preparedness for and protection from terrorist attacks.

“I am extremely grateful to Figen Murray and her tireless campaigning for ‘Martyn’s Law’, following the devastating loss of her son in the attack, ensuring that venues and public spaces put the safety and security of the public first.

“We will now carefully consider the chair’s conclusions and recommendations in this report, including his reflections on the Protect Duty which will help shape our consultation response, and respond fully in due course.”