Guard denies ‘fobbing off’ man who reported suspicions about Manchester Arena bomber
Written by on 27 October 2020
A security guard who said he saw the Manchester Arena bomber smiling just before he blew himself up has denied he “fobbed off” a member of the public who reported his suspicions about 15 minutes before the atrocity.
Around 10.30pm on 22 May 2017, suicide attacker Salman Abedi, 22, was on his mobile phone as he made his “final walk” after waiting for crowds to emerge at the end of an Ariana Grande gig at the Arena.
Showsec guard Mohammed Agha told an inquiry in Manchester: “He was on a phone, a mobile phone, he was smiling.”
Seconds later Abedi detonated his device, packed with 3,000 nuts and bolts, shredding everything in its path, as he killed 22 people.
He had been hiding at the back of the City Room, the foyer to the Arena, before heading for the entrance doors of the venue as people emerged at the end of the concert.
Witnesses said a quarter of an hour before the bombing, Mr Agha told Christopher Wild, who was waiting for his 14-year-old daughter, “yeah, yeah, we’ve seen him, he’s fine” when told there was a suspicious man at the back of the City Room foyer.
Mr Agha said of Mr Wild: “He’s come up to me, walked over to me and mentioned, ‘there’s a suspicious person sat behind you, he’s got a backpack. He’s said to me that he’s waiting for someone’.”
Mr Agha acknowledged that Mr Wild had said he was “worried about” the person and by “cross-referencing” he realised he “had seen someone like that as well”.
But he added: “I would not say [Mr Wild] was panicked or anything, he just said it to me in an ordinary way.
“I said to Mr Wild that I’d have a look into it… I said this because I wanted to double-check, is it the same person?”
He denied saying that he was aware of the man, or “fobbing off” Mr Wild.
He added: “I was telling him not to worry, I’ll look into it. If I said something to the opposite of what I said, he would have panicked further and when it comes to the security role, you are not supposed to panic people.
“I would rather look into it myself and then tell someone a bit higher than myself.”
Mr Agha said he originally noticed Salman Abedi as he arrived in the City Room foyer that evening at 8.51pm, carrying his heavy rucksack, because of his trainers.
“I liked the look of them, I knew the brand he was wearing,” he said.
But the backpack just looked “quite big like a camping rucksack,” and he said there was nothing noticeable about the way he was walking.
Abedi left 20 minutes later and returned at 9.33pm, when Mr Agha saw him again but still was not suspicious.
“It’s a public area and people walk in and out. At that time he just went past me, [I thought] he must be waiting for something or he is waiting for a train” he said.
Mr Agha denied “fobbing off” Mr Wild who alerted him to the bomber around 10.15pm.
Mr Agha said he “tried to remain calm and think with a straight head.”
He added: “I was thinking what was he up to? What did he have in his bag? My first thought was, I need to get it reported.”
It was another eight minutes before he approached a colleague called Kyle Lawler, who had a radio. The pair appeared to discuss the matter before Mr Lawler left the area.
Six minutes later Salman Abedi left his position at the back of the City Room, a CCTV “blind spot”, to detonate his device.
Paul Greaney QC, counsel to the inquiry, asked if he considered what type of harm Abedi might cause.
Mr Agha replied: “No, I didn’t specifically go into that, I just thought that he might cause harm… with a weapon – that was obviously a major concern for myself in that area.”
The barrister added: “You observed he had a large backpack that might have something in, that he might be there to cause harm. Was one scenario that he might be a suicide bomber?”
“I did think about it but it wasn’t in my head to fully go into that situation. There were too many scenarios in my head. I was unclear of the situation,” Mr Agha said.
“It crossed your mind this man might be bomber?” Mr Greaney asked.
“Yes,” Mr Agha replied.
Asked why he left it for eight minutes before attracting Mr Lawler’s attention, Mr Agha said he did not think it was an emergency.
“You are not allowed to leave a fire exit unattended, someone could [have] easily went past [the] doors and I would have got in trouble. My job’s in jeopardy.
“That’s why I’ve not thought to walk over. You leave that door when it’s an emergency, at that point, it’s not an emergency, it is a concern and [it’s] suspicious.
“That may have sounded like fobbing off but I was trying to give [Mr Wild] reassurance.”
Mr Agha said he tried to gesture to his supervisor, David Middleton, three times to come over but he did not get his attention.
Instead, a colleague called Kyle Lawler, who had a radio, walked past.
He said: “I’ve just told him what Mr Wild said to me, there’s a suspicious person behind me… so could you radio it in and take a look.”
Mr Agha said it did not occur to him that there was a threat from terrorism at Manchester Arena.
He said nothing was said to him during his briefing before work that evening about the threat from terrorism in the UK.
At the time, Mr Agha was aged 19 and had worked for security company Showsec for exactly a year, covering 68 different events and earning GBP7.14 per hour, just above minimum wage.
He had covered events including the Great Manchester Run, rugby league games, The Manchester Olympics homecoming, switching on of the Christmas lights, a boxing match, and music concerts including the violinist Andre Rieu and the rapper Drake.
He had completed an online course called “Counter-terrorism At Events” a year earlier in just under three hours but the key section, which included a 12-minute video called “Eyes Wide Open” was done in just five minutes.
He has now had additional training on counter-terrorism and counter-surveillance.
Mr Greaney said: “If you had had that training on 22 May 2017, would you have said something to him or a supervisor?”
“Yes,” Mr Agha said.