Suicide bomber Salman Abedi was “unlikely” to have been picked up by CCTV and instead sub-contract security staff employed by Manchester Arena’s operator should have acted, the firm’s lawyer told the public inquiry into the terror attack.
Andrew O’Connor QC, representing SMG, which runs the venue, said the firm was not looking to “pass the buck” as he rebutted criticism of the arena security operation by lawyers for the families of the 22 people murdered.
The inquiry, before retired High Court judge Sir John Saunders, is hearing final submissions relating to security at the venue, run by SMG who employed Showsec, another major company, to provide security and stewarding.
Earlier John Cooper QC, representing 11 of the families, said the “starting point” is that the UK national threat level, was “severe” at the time, meaning an attack was “highly likely”, with a series of attacks having taken place across mainland Europe.
Mr Cooper warned the chairman against the “mantra of hindsight” from SMG and repeatedly suggested, “penny pinching” characterised SMG’s approach to staffing levels and protective security.
But Mr O’Connor said the characterisation of the company as “akin to the worst of a Dickensian factory owner” was simply not true.
“It was not a business that put profit before safety,” he said.
Neither did the evidence support the claim made by lawyers of the victims, who “asserted” that the firm had become “complacent”, Mr O’Connor said.
SMG managers, he said, were in contact with police counter terrorism advisers and made contact to review security after both the Charlie Hebdo and Bataclan terror attacks in Paris in 2015.
Mr O’Connor, citing the inquiry’s own expert report, said the Arena’s security operation at the time of the bombing was not “dramatically out of step” with comparable venues.
Salman Abedi had carried out “hostile reconnaissance” in the days leading up to the attack on May 22 2017, and on the day of the bombing, dressed all in black and carrying a large rucksack, wandered around the station complex for around two hours, before spending the final hour in the City Room waiting for the crowd to emerge at 10.30pm at the end of an Ariana Grande concert.
But Mr O’Connor said it was “inherently unlikely” Abedi would have been identified as a suspicious character from SMG’s control-room CCTV monitoring.
And deciding whether someone was suspicious was a “nuanced and difficult question” and a matter of personal impression, he said.
Instead Mr O’Connor suggested, had Showsec employees Jordan Beak, Kyle Lawler and Mohammed Agha acted, then Abedi would have been identified as suspicious.
He said if Mr Beak had conducted his end of concert check at 10.15pm, he would have seen the bomber, who by this time eye-witnesses said looked nervous, hiding in a CCTV blind-spot on a mezzanine floor in the City Room.
And he said Mr Lawler and Mr Agha failed to pass on a report from a member of the public that Abedi was suspicious.
Patrick Gibbs QC, representing British Transport Police said the force made some “concessions” about its performance on the night.
Of the four BTP officers on duty, the Pc and her PCSO colleague took two-hour lunch breaks with no officers on duty at the time Abedi made his “final approach” to the City Room and no officer on duty in there for the end of the concert.
But he said, even if circumstances had been different, Abedi’s determination to die and take as many innocent bystanders with him would not have changed.
He added: “If the proceeding events before 22.31 had gone differently, there would have been a different outcome, but what exactly that outcome would have been, and how many people would have died and how many would have been seriously injured and who they would have been, is impossible with any confidence to say.”
The hearing was adjourned until Wednesday morning.