A security guard downplayed a parent’s concern of the suspicious-looking Salman Abedi 15 minutes before the Islamist suicide bombing.
An inquiry into the suicide attack on May 22, 2017, that left 22 people dead and hundreds injured, heard on Wednesday how one parent had overheard another tell Showtec steward Mohammed Agha about a suspicious-looking man with a large backpack on the mezzanine. Abedi had been sitting in a blind spot on the upper floor for an hour before the attack.
Thomas McCallum was standing in the foyer at around 10:15 pm waiting to pick up his stepdaughter and her friend from the Ariana Grande concert when he heard another parent, Christopher Wild, who had just come down from the mezzanine, relay his concerns to Mr Agha.
Mr McCallum said according to The Times that Mr Wild, who was just five to six feet away from him, looked concerned and said to the security guard: “’Have you seen the guy up there? He’s totally out of it.’”
The witness said that Agha responded: “‘Yeah, yeah we’ve seen him, he’s fine.’”
“My overarching memory of that was it was really quite dismissive,” Mr McCallum said. “‘Don’t worry about him, we’ve seen him, it’s OK.’”
Agha then spoke to a colleague, Kyle Lawler, who walked towards the stairs but did not go up to investigate Abedi. The terrorist had been carrying a backpack filled with explosives which he detonated at 10:31 pm as the audience of mostly teen girls, women, and families filed into the foyer.
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— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) October 21, 2020
Earlier in the inquiry, Mr Wild had told the panel that he felt “fobbed off” by Agha “as if he had more important things to deal with”. Another father, Neal Hatfield, had said he thought Abedi was “a suicide bomber straight away, with very little doubt in my mind”, adding that while he kept an eye on the Islamist terrorist, he had assumed that eventually police or security would deal with him.
Other witnesses had raised their concerns over Abedi, the 22-year-old son of Libyan refugees, prior to the deadly explosion.
Julie Merchant, who was working that night on stopping counterfeit merchandise sales, said she saw Abedi praying and thought it was suspicious. She then approached British Transport Police Constable Jessica Bullough with her concerns about the “nutter”.
“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,” Ms Merchant said.
PC Bullough was the only officer on duty at the time of the explosion, despite being only eight months into the job and still on probation. She had said that she did not recall the conversation, but CCTV footage showed Ms Merchant talking to the officer, pointing to the area on the mezzanine where she saw Abedi praying.
During her testimony on Monday, Bullough admitted that it was “unacceptable” of her to take a more than two-hour dinner break while she was on duty that night. One other BTP officer, Stephen Corke, did not arrive on duty at all that night, having diverted to deal with a robbery. PC Corke would have usually patrolled the mezzanine, where Abedi had been hiding in a CCTV blind spot. Two Community Support Officers had also taken extended dinner breaks, leaving their posts before being relieved by colleagues. The inquiry heard that for a whole 30 minutes, there were no outside police patrols, during which time Abedi entered the concert hall unobserved.
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— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) September 11, 2020