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The Manchester Arena Inquiry has now concluded. The closure notice from the Inquiry Chairman is available here.

Volume 1: Security for the Arena
Volume 1: Security for the Arena (large format)

Security perimeter

Key findings

  • SMG should have sought permission from its landlord to push out the security perimeter before May 2017, so that people entering the City Room with large bags were checked before entry.
  • Had permission to push out the perimeter been granted, an attack in the City Room would have been much less likely. SA may have been deterred from carrying out an attack at the Victoria Exchange Complex.
  • Had permission been refused, it is likely that SMG would have looked more closely at other threat mitigation measures required in the City Room.
  • Whether or not the request to move the perimeter beyond the City Room had been granted, it is likely that in at least trying to achieve this, SMG would have substantially improved the safety of the City Room for event-goers.In May 2017, the security perimeter of the Arena, so far as approaching through the City Room was concerned, was at the doors into the Arena concourse. It was at this point that large bags were searched and tickets checked.The Security Experts described how one method of mitigating the risk of a terrorist attack in a grey space, like the City Room, is to push the security perimeter out further. In practice, this would mean moving it to a point further away from the entrance doors or to have layers of security whereby large bags are searched some distance away from where the crowd gathers using equipment like x-ray machines or walk-through metal detectors.558

The importance of a security perimeter

On 13th November 2015, a music concert at the Bataclan theatre in Paris was attacked by terrorists carrying firearms. The terrorists gained access to the venue and killed 89 people. This attack was the final part of a coordinated series of attacks that night. Those attacks began with suicide bombers detonating PBIEDs just outside the Stade de France. There was then a series of attacks in busy public spaces using firearms and a PBIED. A total of 130 people were killed in the course of the attacks (the Paris attack).

On 24th July 2016, a terrorist carrying an IED attempted to gain access to an outdoor music festival in Bavaria. He was prevented from doing so by a security guard and detonated his device, killing only himself. Both Miriam Stone and James Allen stated that they were unaware of this attack.559 On any view, this attack serves as further evidence of the seriousness of the threat of PBIEDs to events like the Ariana Grande concert and the importance of the security perimeter.

Some of SMG’s senior staff attended a conference in April 2016. At that conference they were informed that following the Paris attack in late 2015, the AccorHotels Arena in Paris had responded by pushing out its security perimeter.560

In July 2016, SMG staff attended an Exercise Sherman training event. This was a training exercise provided by the Greater Manchester Resilience Forum and facilitated by GMP. The scenario included a marauding gunman terrorist attack in the City Room.561 This should have highlighted to SMG the very real vulnerabilities to an attack presented by the City Room.

There can be no doubt after the Paris attack that SMG should have sought to push the security perimeter out, beyond the City Room.

Consideration of pushing out the security perimeter

At the NAA and EAA presentation in April 2016, those in senior positions at SMG spoke about the need to push out the security perimeter.562 James Allen said that prior to 22nd May 2017 he did not seek permission to push out the security perimeter and prevent public access during events. His explanation for this was to the effect that any such request would have been refused.563 As a result of this belief, SMG did not approach Mansford, its landlord, or other tenants of the Victoria Exchange Complex to ask whether it would be possible to do so.564 This was a mistake by SMG.

The evidence of Oliver Smith, on behalf of Mansford, was that if Mansford had been told by SMG the request was for a security reason, rather than to obtain any commercial advantage, legal advice would have been taken and permission given in a similar way to September 2017. However, he acknowledged there would probably have been “less urgency” and it would have taken longer to speak to the other tenants and agree documentation.565

SMG should have asked Mansford to allow for the expansion of the security perimeter before May 2017. Moving the security perimeter back from the entrance doors and beyond the City Room is a substantial threat mitigation measure. Had this been done, it would have made an attack in the City Room much less likely. It may even have deterred SA from attempting to carry out his attack at the Victoria Exchange Complex, although plainly he had a determination to carry out an attack somewhere.

It may be that Mansford or the other tenants would not have agreed. BTP may also have expressed concerns. It is impossible to say with certainty what would have happened. The impact of hindsight is inevitable. The fact that twenty-two people died and many more were injured concentrated minds on the necessity of changing the security arrangements in a way which might not have occurred before May 2017.

Had permission been refused, SMG would have been confronted in a stark way with the fact that alternative improvements to security were required. This, in turn, should have led to a recognition of the need for a comprehensive review, by an appropriately qualified expert, of all of the security arrangements.

As I have explained in Part 5, SMG should have realised the need for such expert input. In my view, had SMG attempted to expand the perimeter and failed, this is likely to have caused SMG to recognise this. If such expert input had been received this would have strengthened the request to Mansford for the perimeter to be pushed out. If Mansford had then refused this request, SMG could have received further expert input about how to improve the existing threat migration measures for the City Room, such as the use of CCTV and patrolling. It is likely that in at least trying to achieve this, SMG would have substantially improved the safety of the City Room for event-goers.

The security perimeter pushed out

Following the events of 22nd May 2017, as I have already explained in Part 5, SMG instructed external security consultants to carry out a review of security at the Arena. The external security consultants recommendations included pushing the security perimeter away from the entrances to the Arena, with checks and searches of anyone crossing that perimeter. This included the use of walk-through metal detectors.566

In order to implement these recommendations, and in particular to close the City Room to the public when events were taking place, SMG needed the permission of Mansford as head leaseholder.567 In September 2017, SMG sought this permission and were given it. Permission was granted on conditions. The conditions were that access still had to be given to employees working in the Arena Point office block by the Hunts Bank steps, anyone going to the NCP car park or anyone attending the go-karting circuit which was in another part of the Victoria Exchange Complex. Mansford made clear that this posed a risk to its enterprise because it restricted the rights of other tenants and that they could only agree to it on a temporary basis.568

In practice, this permission was given on an ongoing basis by Mansford and subsequently by the head leaseholder since 2018, Prestbury Investments LLP.569