Manchester Arena was aware of possible threat to US performers’ concerts, inquiry told
Written by on 4 November 2020
Manchester Arena stepped up security measures for American performers two years before the bomb attack on an Ariana Grande concert, but dropped them soon afterwards, the inquiry has heard.
In the wake of the shooting at the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine in January 2015, the arena management realised US performers might represent a bigger target.
Miriam Stone, the events manager at SMG, the arena operators, approached police counter-terrorism advisers five days later, saying: “I am sure you have probably been inundated with requests for advice but I am going to ask you anyway.”
In the email she told the advisers at Greater Manchester Police (GMP) and British Transport Police (BTP): “For the upcoming larger shows, particularly American artists, we have increased the access control staff on each door.”
Paul Greaney QC for the inquiry asked: “Did you think there was a particular antipathy, to understate it, towards America and American artists by Islamist extremists and therefore American artists might be targeted in particular?”
“I read the papers, yes,” Ms Stone said.
However the new measures only lasted for a “couple of months” before they went back to normal, the inquiry heard.
Ms Stone had run what she described as a “scary scenario” involving gunmen in the nearby station that ended with an attack on the City Room as part of an exercise for staff in December 2014.
After the attack on the Bataclan concert venue in Paris in November 2015, Ms Stone drew up the “learning outcomes” from the exercise 11 months earlier.
They included “having a tight belt and visible presence, catching suspicious activity before things happen, visible and active searches” and conducting patrols.
It concluded: “Making ourselves into a less attractive target is key.”
Mr Greaney said: “You didn’t need advice to realise those two things, that a concert might be a target and the perimeter might be important to stop bombers getting in?”
“Yes,” Ms Stone said.
Mr Greaney asked: “Do you think SMG did enough to prevent somebody wanting to do harm getting into the City Room?”
“Somebody did, so no,” Ms Stone said.
The arena could have shut the doors “instantly” if they had been alerted to the bomber who was waiting outside, Ms Stone said.
Suicide bomber Salman Abedi had been hiding at the back of the City Room foyer, outside the main entrance with a bulky rucksack and a member of the public had drawn him to the attention of a steward.
However the steward was unable to get through on the radio and gave up trying as the concert drew to a close.
Ms Stone told the inquiry she could have stopped the crowd leaving straight away “very quickly”, within “minutes” if she had been told.
She said: “Once we make the decision we can be quite clear that needs to happen instantly.”
The inquiry continues.