“Today our heartbreak turns to anger.”
Paul Hett’s voice cracked with emotion as he delivered his reaction to a damning report into the security arrangements in place at the Manchester Arena in May 2017, when suicide bomber Salman Abedi murdered his beloved son Martyn and 21 others.
Just a few minutes earlier, the chairman of the continuing public inquiry into the atrocity, Sir John Saunders, had published a shocking 196-page report which found there had been ‘serious shortcomings’ by the venue’s owners SMG, their security contractor Showsec and British Transport Police (BTP).
Sir John ruled the terrorist should have been identified that night and, had he been, ‘the loss of life and injury is highly likely to have been less’.
Abedi, 22, walked across the City Room foyer towards an exit door and detonated his shrapnel-laden device, packed into his bulging rucksack, at 10.31pm on May 22, 2017, just as thousands, including many children, left an Ariana Grande concert
A member of the public, Christoper Wild, had raised concerns about him to a Showsec steward, Mohammed Agha, who was 19 at the time.
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Giving evidence, Agha denied ‘fobbing off’ the man, but the report found it was a ‘missed opportunity’ to stop the murderer.
Sir John said Showsec failed to train Mr Agha adequately and concluded this missed opportunity was ‘the most striking’ he had uncovered.
The inquiry has heard that some of the 4,000 Showsec staff nationwide skipped through counter terrorism online training in minutes and no-one checked whether it had been completed properly.
There were others shortcomings, including SMG’s ‘inadequate’ CCTV system, a ‘blind spot’ where Abedi was able to hide for about an hour before his attack and the absence of any ‘security patrol’ by Showsec in the 30 minutes before the crowd was due to leave the arena.
Both companies saved money in failing to improve security as they should have done although ‘that does not mean that they knowingly risked the safety of event-goers to increase their profits’, said Sir John.
The inquiry has heard from another Showsec security officer, Kyle Lawler, then 18, who earned £4.24 per hour.
Four BTP officers, the report said, ignored briefings to stagger their breaks during the concert and took ‘substantially longer’ than they should have done’.
Two of them set off on a five-mile journey to get a kebab, the inquiry heard.
It left a 36 minute period when where there was no policing presence as Abedi stalked the arena and Victoria railway station.
There were no BTP officers in the City Room blast zone between 10pm and 10.31pm.
‘This atrocity should have been prevented’
Paul Hett’s anger outside Manchester Salford Magistrates’ Court, where the inquiry is being held, was palpable.
He continued: “We entrusted the safety of our loved ones into organisations and agencies who had a duty of care to protect them. This inquiry found that we were failed on every level.
“This terrorist atrocity could and should have been prevented and 22 innocent people should not have lost their lives.”
June Tron, mother of Philip Tron, 32, from Gateshead, who died in the attack, said: “Every life taken in this horrendous attack has destroyed the lives of those close to them, and like the many other families affected, we don’t want anyone else to go through what we have following the loss of Philip.
“It has been extremely hard to listen to evidence which has highlighted how our Government has failed to take extra steps to ensure security is as it should be at venues like this across the country, and how organisations who are supposedly experts in running such venues and events can make so many basic mistakes relating to safety and security.
“We hope that, as a result of this inquiry, many lessons are learned and that laws are introduced and changes made quickly to ensure people can go to a concert or a big public event in confidence that they have the best possible protection.
“It has become clear that was not the case for Philip, 21 others who also lost their lives, and the hundreds more who were seriously injured or left traumatised by what happened.
“Philip and everybody else in the vicinity of the Arena that night was placed at risk.
“That is very hard to accept and understand. “
Figen Murray, mother of Martyn Hett, welcomed the report and said it made her dream of ‘Martyn’s Law’, where there is an obligation placed on concert venues to act on counter terror advice, a step closer.
She said: “The past nine months have been extremely difficult for all the families as we listened to what happened that night. But now after this report we are one step closer to ensuring that a difference can be made.
“Now the recommendations have to be acted upon by the Government, so that all venues have security and that no other families have to go through what we have.
“While the report focuses on venue security, Martyn’s Law goes beyond this to make the safety of all public venues a priority. We should not have to live in fear and I’m determined to make this law an act.”
John Cooper QC, who represents a number of bereaved families, said: “It is a damning report about the level of security at the arena and not just a matter of turning on 16 and 17-year-olds who were doing their job.
“There were poor risk assessments, areas not being patrolled and a matter for the British Transport Police who were criticised for their attention to detail.
“These are serious and damning observations being made against all those who were responsible for keeping young people safe.
“The report itself families are content with, because they are looking for accountability and the chair has done that.
“But the report is based on a serious tragedy, so while the families are content, it’s been a difficult day.”
He added: “Things that should have been done were not done and it’s important for the future that organisations do their job with diligence for people who visit their venues and expect to be kept safe.”
‘Serious shortcomings’, inquiry chairman finds
Earlier, Sir John had said: “Having considered the totality of that evidence, and the submissions which have been made to me, both orally and in writing, by all those involved in this part of the inquiry, I have concluded that there were serious shortcomings in the security provided by those organisations which had responsibility for it and also failings and mistakes by some individuals.”
The public inquiry into the atrocity is continuing and Sir John is due to publish volumes two and three later this year.
Those reports will examine the emergency response and the experience of each of those who died, and an analysis of whether the atrocity committed by Abedi could have been prevented.
British Transport Police Chief Constable Lucy D’Orsi said: “I would like to reassure everyone that British Transport Police, as you would expect, has been reviewing procedures, operational planning and training since this dreadful attack took place in 2017.
“We continue to work closely with our emergency service colleagues, Greater Manchester Police and other experts to strengthen our multi-agency preparedness for major incidents.
“We are committed to ensuring our staff are supported and prepared to undertake the roles they are required to do.
“We will never forget that twenty-two people tragically lost their lives following the truly evil actions of the attacker and many received life changing injuries . They continue to be at the forefront of our thoughts as are their loved ones and all those affected by this dreadful attack.”
In a statement, Showsec said: “Showsec has learnt lessons from the terrible events of May 22 2017 and as the chairman has acknowledged Showsec improvements are already in place.
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“Having been provided with the first volume of the report, Showsec will take some time to consider both Sir John’s criticisms and his recommendations before responding as he has requested.
“As always, the families are at the forefront of our minds.”
A statement from SMG said: “Since the Inquiry began, questions have been asked of SMG and others about the security operations in place that evening. Throughout, we’ve been committed to working with the inquiry to help the families of victims and survivors better understand the events of that evening, as well as look at the lessons learnt.
“During the Inquiry process, the experts stated that they did not see evidence that the security operation in place at Manchester Arena was out of step with the operations being used at other comparable venues.
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“In fact, the standards that we adopted were in line with published industry guidance at the time.
“However, this doesn’t give us any comfort. Our guests came to the arena to enjoy a show but were met with a horrific tragedy. For that we are truly sorry.
“All of us at Manchester Arena have learnt a lot since the events of that night and our security measures continue to evolve to reflect the threats we face today. Since the attack, we have further extended the security perimeter, adopted a more intensive approach to checking and searching including the use of walk through metal detectors and installed a new CCTV and access control system.
“However, out of respect for those who tragically lost their lives on the 22nd May 2017, and those whose lives changed forever, we can never be satisfied that we have done enough.
“To that end, we will be reviewing the report findings in detail and the recommendations that have been put forward. “