by Mohamed Omar Mohamed
In this report, the Manchester Arena attack will be discussed identifying the security of the Arena and following the attack. The report will discuss the security planning before the attack and missed opportunities as well as the findings of the inquiry assessing the security failures during the attack.
On the 22nd of May 2017, Ariana Grande was performing at the Arena, and it was attended by 14,000 people and the majority were teenagers. AT 22:30 hours the concert had finished, and people started leaving when emergency services received their first call at 22:31 hours from a member of the public and at 22:45 hours, emergency services declared a major incident (The Guardian,2022). The terrorist Salman Abedi who is of Libyan-descent had detonated a device at the foyer of the venue which was packed into his rucksack (The Guardian, 2021). The attack caused the life of 22 people and injured 100 more (The Guardian, 2021).
Following the attack, an inquiry was opened to investigate the security at the venue on the day the arena was opened in 1995 and is the largest in Europe with a capacity of 21,000 people. It was argued that the security at the arena should have prevented the attack. During the attack, the security of the arena was operated by a large organisation namely SMG which had subcontracted a security company namely Showsec to provide crowd management and event security (Manchester Arena Inquiry, 2022). The policing of the Victoria Complex was undertaken by the British Transport Police (BTP) and Counter Terrorism Security Advisor (CTSA) who had provided advice to the SMG for many years (Manchester Arena Inquiry, 2022).
SMG had a written assessment, and it was found that was inadequate as it did not provide planning and procedures at the Arena, and it had not identified risks to prevent the attack (Manchester Arena, 2022). Moreover, a threat from terrorism following a risk assessment carried out by the company was identified as well as a communication failure between the SMG and Showsec (Manchester Arena Inquiry, 2022). Showsec had a written assessment which was inadequate, and it did not have a written risk assessment concerning terrorism (Manchester Arena Inquiry, 2022). It is paramount that in any such large event a full risk assessment is carried out to determine the risk from terrorism and the security team is trained. Following the 7/7 attack in London in 2005, the inquiry recommended that t an assessment of the level of visibility of the threat, and the limits of the intelligence on the threat, be more systematically included in the JIC ‘Assessments Base’ box and JTAC papers. This will avoid the oversimplification of the UK threat picture and the potential for giving inappropriate reassurance about the threat. The issue of addressing the limitations of intelligence in intelligence assessments was one identified by the Butler Review – we are concerned that it has not yet been fully implemented (UK Government, 2005). At the time of the attack threat level had been reduced from critical to severe meaning an attack is highly likely (MI5, 2022).
Besides, there several missed opportunities where the attacker could have been intervened and prevented the attack. The attacker Salma Abedi had conducted hostile reconnaissance before the attack that evening shortly after the doors had been opened. He later returned to the Victoria complex and spent around 2o minutes where CCTV was not covered in that location (Manchester Arena Inquiry, 2022). He later returned and was out the view from a CCTV where he spent almost an hour later he was spotted by a member of the security team that was acting suspiciously, and a member of the public had raised concerns, but no effective action was taken by the security team which shortly after he detonated the device that was in his rucksack (Manchester Arena Inquiry, 2022).
The attacker Abedi was known as MI5 as the subject of interest and had regularly travelled to war-torn Libya, but his file was closed in 2014 (The Guardian,2020). Months before the attack intelligence suggested that there was highly likely a planned attack, but this was not followed up (The Guardian, 2020).
The inquiry found that there were several failures by the emergency services Police, Fire and Ambulance Services in response to the attack that there were below the standard and recommended that;
- Educating the Public
- Training of Firefighters
- Training of event staff licensed by the Security Industry Authority
- Event Healthcare Services
- Public Access Trauma Kits
- Hazardous Area Response Team Equipment
Lessons should have been learned following the 7/7 attacks in London in 2005 and following the recommendations made such as there some failures of security services identifying that Siddique Khan and Shazad Tanweer were under surveillance and there was no appreciation of their subsequent significance (UK Government, 2005). Again, the recommendation was made to assess the threat of terrorism from home-grown individuals and to address the issue concerning the limitations of intelligence to prevent terrorism (UK Government, 2005).
Following the 7/7 London bombings, the government published the CONTEST strategy which was published in 2011 which aims to reduce the risk to the UK and its interest overseas from terrorism so that people can go about their lives freely and with confidence (HM Government, 2011). The strategy has four key objectives Pursue: to stop terrorist attacks, prevent: to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism, protect: to strengthen our protection against a terrorist attack and Prepare: to mitigate the impact of a terrorist attack (HM Government, 2011).
The protection strategy is complex and requires cooperation from both public and private sectors (HM Government, 2011). Therefore, the security team has to ensure that risk assessments are conducted for each venue to protect from terrorism that any security threats are identified, and that security mitigation is taken immediately. Following the Manchester Arena Inquiry, it was recommended that ‘Protect Duty’ legislation be implemented for those who are responsible for publicly accessible locations to consider and were required to implement security measures to protect the public (Manchester Arena Inquiry, 2022). The process of protection duty will involve;
- Assessing the risks
- Mitigate the risks
- Carried out actions when identified
- A System of action has been carried out
- Enforcement for failure to carry out any actions
Furthermore, the inquiry recommended that further training among security staff in counter-terrorism, communication, coordination and cooperation amongst enforcement authorities, guidance on the completion of risk assessment concerning the threat from terrorism and mandatory first aid training for all those staffs under Protect Duty (Manchester Arena Inquiry,2022).