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Manchester Arena bomber hid in CCTV blind spot for an hour before attack

Written by on 13 October 2020

The Manchester Arena bomber spent an hour hiding in a CCTV blind spot as he waited to launch his attack, an inquiry into the atrocity has been told.

Footage was played of a series of three “hostile reconnaissance” trips by Salman Abedi around the arena, at one point showing him walking up and down in front of the entrance doors, yards from security personnel.

The footage also showed Abedi as he mingled with young Ariana Grande fans going into the concert while he conducted the last of the recces just hours before his attack.

Image:
Salman Abedi made a number of reconnaissance trips

Michael Edwards, who had worked for arena operator SMG for 11 years, was employed as a control room operator.

Asked by Nick de la Poer QC at the inquiry if he was aware of CCTV blind spots, he said: “I was, yes. Everybody knew about the blind spots that we had.

“I’d say ‘that person’s gone off camera’ in which case we would have to physically go up there. I have known it on quite a few occasions.”

There was no camera focused on the mezzanine level where Abedi spent almost an hour before the attack, the inquiry was told.

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The camera could be aimed at the area but if someone was standing there, you could only see their top half, he said.

Reports suggested that Abedi had been sitting, the inquiry was told.

Salman Abedi moments he detonated a bomb at Manchester Arena in 2017.
Image:
Salman Abedi moments before he detonated a bomb at Manchester Arena in 2017

John Cooper QC, representing 11 of the victims’ families, asked how long it had been known there was a blind spot.

“With the CCTV system as it was, ever since I’ve started working for SMG. It had always been a blind spot,” Mr Edwards said.

Mr Cooper asked: “Did SMG or any officials ever come and do an audit of CCTV and blind spots?”

“I don’t recall any audits,” Mr Edwards said.

The inquiry was told that Martin McGuffie, who had been sitting on a wall near the mezzanine level, had “encountered someone with a rucksack on his back who appeared to have been hiding” and that appeared to be Abedi.

The inquiry then went into “restricted” session to discuss the security of the arena.

Emergency services respond to the Manchester Arena terror attack at an Ariana Grande concert in May 2017
Image:
Emergency services respond to the terror attack

Earlier, the inquiry was told of the series of reconnaissance trips.

The first lasted 21 minutes, beginning at 6.18pm on 18 May – the day Abedi arrived back in Manchester from seeing his parents in Libya.

Arriving at Victoria Station by tram, he looked at his phone as he walked up Hunts Bank outside the station.

He could be seen walking past the stepped entrance to the arena which appeared to be unused and the Trinity Roller entrance, which was also quiet, speaking briefly to a member of the arena staff.

As fans began to arrive for a Take That concert, he walked along Trinity Way which runs past the outside of the arena and then did a U-turn and walked back 11 minutes later.

Walking through the Trinity Way link tunnel and into the 50 Pence foyer underneath the arena, he went up the staircase and into the City Room foyer which served as the main entrance.

At 6.35pm, he could be seen walking around the queue at the box office and then wandering up and down in front of the doors to the arena with his hands behind his back as fans entered the arena.

He was just yards behind two security guards but they had their back to him and did not spot him.

Abedi (wearing all black and glasses) passes over the raised footbridge
Image:
Abedi (wearing all black and glasses) passes over the raised footbridge

The inquiry has been told that half an hour later Jonathan Lavery, the same steward supervisor, followed a suspicious young man down onto the platform of Victoria Station but it was not the bomber.

A minute later, Abedi walked out onto the raised footbridge that leads down to Victoria Station and jogged down the steps to the platform where he boarded a tram at 6.39pm.

Sir John Saunders, the chairman of the inquiry, said: “Looking back with hindsight, we did not see him taking any photographs. It would be quite difficult to pick up.

“It is a busy place with a lot of people wandering around who perhaps haven’t been there before.”

Abedi returned to Victoria Station at 6.56pm on 21 May during an event by the scientist Brian Cox, the day before the attack, and this time spent 16 minutes looking around.

He could be seen walking up towards the City Room foyer, hands in his pockets, with a baseball cap on and his hood up, looking at his phone.

He spent most of the time standing and then sitting on a low wall in front of the entrance doors looking at his mobile phone, at one point holding it up to his ear.

The bomber sits on a low wall in the arena's foyer
Image:
The bomber sits on a low wall in the arena’s foyer

Abedi then went up the stairs behind him to the mezzanine level where there had been a McDonalds, dismantled in December 2016, before leaving to return to the station and catching a cab back to the rented flat in central Manchester where he had been making his bomb.

On the day of the attack, Abedi reappeared at Victoria Station by tram at 6.31pm and spent just five minutes surveying the area, again wearing his baseball cap and looking down at his phone.

Abedi could be seen mingling with the crowd which was mainly made up of young girls.

He entered the City Room very briefly before turning around and going back across the footbridge to the station.

On his way, he stopped to talk to two security guards before jogging down the stairs and catching a taxi outside the station back to the bomb factory in Granby Row at 6.36pm.

Abedi was back at Victoria Station for the last time at 8.30pm on 22 May, when he sat on the platform with his rucksack on his back, then went to the public toilets, struggling to get the turnstile to work.

He emerged from a stall 11 minutes later and caught the lift up to the footbridge instead of the stairs, sharing it with two other people and fiddling with his jacket.

Abedi is seen in a lift on the night of the attack
Image:
Abedi is seen in a lift on the night of the attack

He walked past the same two security guards and into the City Room where he waited for 19 minutes before returning to the tram platform, resting the heavy rucksack on a rail in the lift on the way down.

After 16 minutes on the tram platform he returned to the lift, leaning over with the weight of the rucksack, and caught the lift back up to the footbridge, adjusting what appeared to be a wire at the bottom of his gilet.

This time, the two security guards could not be seen and he entered the City Room at 9.33pm, remaining in the “black spot” for the next 58 minutes before descending the stairs from the mezzanine to launch his attack.