LONDON — Security teams missed multiple chances to prevent a suicide bomb attack outside an Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena in 2017, a public inquiry has found.
The terror attack on May 22, 2017, caused 22 people to die and more than 800 to be injured, many of them children. It happened at the end of a sold-out Ariana Grande show at Manchester Arena (also now known as AO Arena) when bomber Salman Abedi detonated a home-made explosive device in the venue foyer as fans were exiting the building.
A 200-page report into the attack, published on Thursday (June 17), found that “there were a number of missed opportunities to alter the course of what happened that night” and “more should have been done” by police and security to prevent the bombing.
In particular, the report notes that police should have identified Manchester-born Abedi, who was of Libyan descent, as a potential threat on the night of the attack. Had that occurred, it is likely that Abdedi would still have detonated his device, “but the loss of life and injury is highly likely to have been less,” says John Saunders, who chaired the inquiry.
The report is the first of three that will be produced by the public inquiry, which began last September. It found that arena operators SMG, security company Showsec and the British Transport Police, who were responsible for policing the area where the bomb went off, were “principally responsible” for missed opportunities to prevent or minimize the “devastating impact of the attack.”
They included failing to detect “hostile reconnaissance” carried out by Abdedi on at least three separate occasions prior to May 22, as well as being more alert to the risk of a terrorist attack on the night of the concert.
Saunders says the most striking missed opportunity was the failure of a teenage security guard to take effective steps after a member of the public raised concerns to him about Abedi.
The inquiry found that another security guard, also a teenager, tried to use his radio to alert the security control room after concerns were raised about Abedi, but could not get through.
The report criticizes SMG’s “inadequate” CCTV system, which enabled to Abedi to hide for an hour in a blind spot, and the failure of Showsec staff to conduct an “adequate security patrol” in the 30 minutes leading to the attack.
“It is implicit in the findings that I have made that both SMG and Showsec failed to take steps to improve security at the Arena that they should have taken,” says Saunders.
Of the four British Transport Police officers on duty at the arena on May 22, none were in the foyer at the time of the attack. Two took a two-hour meal break, driving five miles away from the arena to pick up a kebab.
On the night of the bombing, the national terror threat level in the U.K. was severe, meaning an attack was highly likely.
The report makes a number of recommendations to improve security at concert venues, including the introduction of new “protect duty” law, which would place a legal obligation on venue operators to make sure they are prepared for the risk of terror attacks. The British government has initiated a consultation on the proposals.
SMG says since the attack it has improved security procedures at the Manchester Arena by extending the security perimeter around the venue and installing walk-through metal detectors and 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,” SMG says in a statement, “we can never be satisfied that we have done enough.”