Officer Was on Two-Hour Break When Islamist Bomber Walked in to Manchester Arena

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 23: A woman is consoled as she looks at the floral tributes following an evening vigil outside the Town Hall on May 23, 2017 in Manchester, England. An explosion occurred at Manchester Arena as concert goers were leaving the venue after Ariana Grande had performed. Greater …
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A British Transport Police officer admitted that it was “unacceptable” of her to take a two-hour break that resulted in her missing Salman Abedi arriving at the Manchester Arena just before he detonated a bomb that killed 22 victims at an Ariana Grande concert, an inquiry into the May 2017 Islamist terror attack heard.

BTP Police Constable Jessica Bullough told the inquiry on Monday that she took the two-hour and nine-minute break to buy a kebab, where she was supposed to only be away for between 50 minutes to 1 hour. She admitted that had her supervisor been on duty, she would not have taken more than twice the break she should have.

During her extended break, it was revealed that 22-year-old Salman Abedi had walked from Victoria station into Manchester Arena, the BBC reports. The inquiry heard that had PC Bullough returned just ten minutes earlier, she would have seen Abedi enter, carrying the large and conspicuous backpack filled with explosives which he detonated as the mostly young women, girls, and families filed into the foyer.

It was also revealed that trainee Police Community Support Officer (PCSO) Lewis Brown and his mentor PCSO Jon Morrey had taken an hour-and-a-half break when they should have only had one hour, leaving their posts before being relieved by other officers. That meant that between around 9 pm and 9:30 pm, when Abedi arrived, there were no police patrols outside the concert hall.

Bullough had been qualified for just eight months and was still on probation, but was the most senior officer at the scene because a colleague, BTP PC Stephen Corke, had diverted to check on a “vulnerable location” and spent seven hours dealing with a burglary. As a result, PC Corke was on the other side of the city when the attack occurred. It was also revealed Abedi had hidden himself from view in a blind spot on the mezzanine in the area where PC Corke would have otherwise patrolled.

Ms Bullough expressed feeling overwhelmed when she was left as being the first officer on site to deal with the immediate aftermath of the terror attack. Explaining that she did not feel she had been adequately trained “to deal with what I was witnessing”, she agreed with John Cooper QC, who is representing some of the victims’ families, that she had been “left in the lurch”.

Earlier in the inquiry, the panel heard that a worker saw the praying “crank” Abedi on the mezzanine and thought he was suspicious, claiming that she had informed PC Bullough of her concerns.

Julie Merchant was watching out for merchandise bootleggers when she noticed the suspicious behaviour, and told the inquiry last week: “I think I would have said ‘Is that crankypants still there? Is that nutter there’, or words to that effect. It wasn’t a very long conversation.

“I can’t remember if she replied to me. They didn’t seem that interested.

“None of us were suspicious of him and I think we were aware of being overtly un-PC.”

PC Bullough said she had “no recollection at all” of this conversation, but The Times reported on Tuesday that CCTV footage showed Ms Merchant talking to the officer and pointing to the area where Abedi was praying.

Parents picking up their children had also found Abedi immediately suspicious upon seeing him, with father Neal Hatfield remarking: “I thought it’s a suicide bomber straight away, with very little doubt in my mind, my heart was racing as soon as I saw him.” Mr Hatfield kept an eye on Abedi, thinking that eventually police or security would arrive to deal with him.

Christopher Wild, who was with his partner Julie Whitley to pick up their 14-year-old daughter, thought the terrorist “could be very dangerous” and also believed that he might be a suicide bomber. Mr Wild had said that he informed Showsec steward Mohammed Agha of his concerns, with Agha saying that he was already aware of Abedi. Mr Wild saying be felt “fobbed off” by the steward’s dismissal, “as if he had more important things to deal with”.

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