Worker spotted ‘crank’ at Manchester Arena ‘in area he should not have been’

A security worker told a police officer about a praying “crank” at the Manchester Arena about 30 minutes before the blast that killed 22 people and injured hundreds more, an inquiry has heard.

Julie Merchant said she did not think the man was a bomber but thought it “worth mentioning” as he had “secreted himself away in an area he should not have been”.

Salman Abedi, 22, hid for nearly an hour on the upstairs level of the Arena’s City Room foyer and out of sight of CCTV cameras before he descended carrying a bulging rucksack and detonated his home-made explosives at the end of an Ariana Grande concert.

Ms Merchant, who was monitoring merchandise bootleggers, said she assumed Abedi was travelling through from the nearby Victoria railway station on her first sighting of him on May 22 2017.

She said she later learned he was praying upstairs and said she caught the attention of a female BTP (British Transport Police) officer who was patrolling the City Room with a colleague.

She told the inquiry: “I just thought it was worth mentioning.

“Even though I was not suspicious of him, like worst case scenario he was going to be a bomber, I was suspicious that he had secreted himself away.

“In that way it was a security issue … because he was in an area he should not have been, an area that is all tucked away.”

CCTV image of Salman Abedi at Victoria Station making his way to the Manchester Arena (GMP/PA)
CCTV image of Salman Abedi at Victoria Station making his way to the Manchester Arena (GMP/PA)

Ms Merchant said she could not recall what she exactly said but believed she used the words “crank” and “praying”.

She said: “I think I would have said ‘Is that crankypants still there? Is that nutter there’, or words to that effect.

“It wasn’t a very long conversation.

“I can’t remember if she replied to me.

“They didn’t seem that interested.

“None of us were suspicious of him and I think we were aware of being overtly un-PC.”

The inquiry has previously heard the BTP constable Jessica Bullough, who will give evidence next week, does not recall anything of the conversation.

Ms Merchant said she had worked at the Arena “hundreds of times” and had never seen anyone praying there in a public place.

Giving evidence, her supervisor, William Drysdale, said he too had not previously witnessed anyone praying at the venue but did so on the raised mezzanine level of the City Room at about 9.40pm.

Asked if he thought that was unusual at the time, he replied: “Yes and no.

“Yes, because I had never seen it before and no, as far as I knew being a Muslim if you have not prayed you find a quiet spot and then you pray there.”

Mr Drysdale said he did not regard him as suspicious.

He stated to police that the man’s backpack was “so large that it was above his head”.

In his statement, he went on: “As I looked a little bit longer I saw him rocking back and forward.

“I couldn’t tell if he was kneeling or sitting because he was quite low behind a 3ft wall which he was behind as we were just a slight angle from him.

“I knew he was not standing because the wall is only very small.”