Security guard ‘did not approach Abedi for fear of being branded a racist’

A security guard had a "bad feeling" as he eyeballed Manchester Arena suicide bomber Salman Abedi but did not approach him for fear of being branded a racist, a public inquiry has heard.

Kyle Lawler said he was stood 10 or 15ft away from Abedi, who had been reported to security by a member of the public who thought he looked "dodgy".

The Showsec security guard, aged 18 at the time of the terror attack, told police in a statement read to the inquiry sitting in Manchester: "I felt unsure about what to do.

"It's very difficult to define a terrorist. For all I knew he might well be an innocent Asian male.

"I did not want people to think I am stereotyping him because of his race.

"I was scared of being wrong and being branded a racist if I got it wrong and would have got into trouble.

"It made me hesitant.

"I wanted to get it right and not mess it up by over-reacting or judging someone by their race."

Paul Greaney QC, counsel to the inquiry, said: "If you were to approach him and he was some innocent kid, people might think you were racist?"

Mr Lawler replied: "Yes."

Abedi, 22, dressed all in black and carrying a large, bulky rucksack, was spotted and reported to security at 10.15pm on May 22 2017.

The Manchester-born bomber, whose parents were Libyan, was sat on steps near the back of the foyer of the arena, known as the City Room, awaiting the end of an Ariana Grande concert.

A CCTV image of Salman Abedi at Victoria Station making his way to the Manchester Arena on May 22 2017

Around eight minutes before he detonated his device, Showsec steward Mohammed Ali Agha alerted Mr Lawler to the report by a member of the public and both began observing Abedi.

Mr Lawler said: "At that time he was just an Asian male sat amongst a group of white people.

"As Ali turned to have a look he's clocked that we are looking at him. He's become fidgety with his hands. No sudden movements. He was watching us, watching him.

"He would kind of look, slightly look away and look back at us."

In his statement to police, Mr Lawler said: "I just had a bad feeling about him but did not have anything to justify that."

The witness said Abedi was "fidgety and sweating" and he said he panicked slightly and was "conflicted" because he thought something was wrong but could not put his finger on it, the inquiry heard.

Mr Lawler said he attempted to use his radio to alert the security control room but claimed he could not get through due to radio traffic.

He then left the area and took up his position on a walkway bridge outside the City Room and made no further attempt to raise the alarm.

Mr Lawler agreed he simply "gave up" trying to use the radio and just got on with his job.

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Manchester Arena blast: emergency services react
Police are seen outside the Manchester Arena in northern England where U.S. singer Ariana Grande had been performing in Manchester, Britain, May 22, 2017. REUTERS/Jon Super
Concert goers react after fleeing the Manchester Arena in northern England where U.S. singer Ariana Grande had been performing in Manchester, Britain, May 22, 2017. REUTERS/Jon Super TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Two women wrapped in thermal blankets stand near the Manchester Arena, where U.S. singer Ariana Grande had been performing, in Manchester, northern England, Britain, May 23, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Yates TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Armed police officers stand near the Manchester Arena, where U.S. singer Ariana Grande had been performing, in Manchester, in northern England, Britain May 23, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Yates
People sit by the side of the road next to a police cordon outside the Manchester Arena, where U.S. singer Ariana Grande had been performing, in Manchester, northern England, Britain, May 23, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Yates TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Armed police at Manchester Arena after reports of an explosion at the venue during an Ariana Grande gig.
Armed police officers stand next to a police cordon outside the Manchester Arena, where U.S. singer Ariana Grande had been performing, in Manchester, northern England, Britain, May 23, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Yates
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 23: People leave Victoria Station adjacent to Manchester Arena on May 23, 2017 in Manchester, England. There have been reports of explosions at Manchester Arena where Ariana Grande had performed this evening. Greater Manchester Police have have confirmed there are fatalities and warned people to stay away from the area. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 23: Dawn breaks over Manchester Arena on May 23, 2017 in Manchester, England. There have been reports of explosions at Manchester Arena where Ariana Grande had performed this evening. Greater Manchester Police have have confirmed there are fatalities and warned people to stay away from the area. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 23: Police escort members of the public from the Manchester Arena on May 23, 2017 in Manchester, England. There have been reports of explosions at Manchester Arena where Ariana Grande had performed this evening. Greater Manchester Police have have confirmed there are fatalities and warned people to stay away from the area. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Emergency services at Manchester Arena after reports of an explosion at the venue during an Ariana Grande gig.
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 23: A police officer escorts people near to Manchester Arena on May 23, 2017 in Manchester, England. There have been reports of explosions at Manchester Arena where Ariana Grande had performed this evening. Greater Manchester Police have have confirmed there are fatalities and warned people to stay away from the area. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Police and fans close to the Manchester Arena on May 23, 2017 in Manchester, England. There have been reports of explosions at Manchester Arena where Ariana Grande had performed this evening. Greater Manchester Police have have confirmed there are fatalities and warned people to stay away from the area. (Photo by Dave Thompson/Getty Images)
Medics deploy at the scene of a reported explosion during a concert in Manchester, England on May 23, 2017. British police said early May 23 there were 'a number of confirmed fatalities' after reports of at least one explosion during a pop concert by US singer Ariana Grande. Ambulances were seen rushing to the Manchester Arena venue and police added in a statement that people should avoid the area / AFP PHOTO / Paul ELLIS (Photo credit should read PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images)
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 23: Members of the public are escorted from the Manchester Arena on May 23, 2017 in Manchester, England. There have been reports of explosions at Manchester Arena where Ariana Grande had performed this evening. Greater Manchester Police have have confirmed there are fatalities and warned people to stay away from the area. (Photo by Dave Thompson/Getty Images)
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Police stand by a cordoned off street close to the Manchester Arena on May 22, 2017 in Manchester, England. There have been reports of explosions at Manchester Arena where Ariana Grande had performed this evening. Greater Manchester Police have have confirmed there are fatalities and warned people to stay away from the area. (Photo by Dave Thompson/Getty Images)
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Police officers stand at the Miller Street and Corporation Street Crossroads, in front of the Manchester Arena on May 23, 2017 in Manchester, England. An explosion occurred at Manchester Arena as concert goers were leaving the venue after Ariana Grande had performed. Greater Manchester Police have have confirmed 19 fatalities and at least 50 injured. (Photo by Dave Thompson/Getty Images)
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Around five minutes later, Abedi got to his feet and walked across the room towards the crowd emerging from the arena at the end of the gig at 10.31pm.

He was smiling, the inquiry heard, seconds before he detonated his home-made rucksack bomb, packed with thousands of nuts and bolts, murdering 22 bystanders and injuring hundreds more.

Mr Lawler agreed that on five separate occasions after the bombing, he made statements, verbally or in writing, where he "deliberately shortened" the time between him leaving the City Room to the bomb going off, "so no one would say, why didn't you do something?" the inquiry was told.

He said: "I had no recollection of minutes or seconds. I had a guilty feeling, I had a lot of blame on myself."

The inquiry heard Mr Lawler, from Salford, left school at 16 and began an apprenticeship working 7am to 4pm before going in the evenings straight to Showsec events, working from 5.30pm to 11.30pm in the evenings, for £4.24 per hour.

But before the bombing, he said he had never dealt with the report of a suspicious person and was not aware that where Abedi was in the foyer was a CCTV blind spot, which it is thought was identified by the bomber in previous "hostile reconnaissance".

The public inquiry is looking at the background circumstances before and during the bombing and is expected to last into next spring.

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