A security guard had a ‘bad feeling’ as he looked at the Manchester Arena suicide bomber Salman Abedi but did not approach him for fear of being branded a racist, a public inquiry has heard.
Kyle Lawler, who was 18 at the time, was on duty when a colleague, Mohammed Agha, told him a member of the public had raised concerns about Abedi, who was hanging around outside the Arena at an Ariana Grande concert.
Mr Lawler said he was stood 10 or 15ft away from Abedi, who had been reported to security by a member of the public who thought he looked ‘dodgy’.
The Showsec security guard, aged 18 at the time of the terror attack, told police in a statement read to the inquiry sitting in Manchester: ‘I felt unsure about what to do.
‘It’s very difficult to define a terrorist. For all I knew he might well be an innocent Asian male.
‘I did not want people to think I am stereotyping him because of his race. I was scared of being wrong and being branded a racist if I got it wrong and would have got into trouble.
Manchester Arena security guard Kyle Lawler, who was 18 at the time, told the inquiry into the arena bombing that he was ‘naive’ about terrorism and struggled to radio the control room over concerns about Salman Abedi
‘It made me hesitant.
‘I wanted to get it right and not mess it up by over-reacting or judging someone by their race.’
Paul Greaney QC, counsel to the inquiry, said: ‘If you were to approach him and he was some innocent kid, people might think you were racist?’
Mr Lawler replied: ‘Yes.’
The suicide bomber, dressed all in black and carrying a large, bulky rucksack, was reported by concerned parent Christopher Wild, who though it looked ‘dodgy’ and had asked Abedi what he had in his backpack.
Mr Wild told the inquiry he felt ‘fobbed off’ when he raised the matter to security, but Mr Agha said he could not immediately pass on the concerns as he was guarding a fire exit and it was practice never to leave those unattended.
Minutes later Abedi, 22, left his position out of sight of CCTV in the foyer of the Arena, known as the City Room, and walked towards the crowd emerging at the end of the gig at 10.31pm on May 22 2017
Instead, eight minutes later, he told Mr Lawler because he had a radio, for him to pass on the report.
The public inquiry in Manchester has heard that Mr Lawler, who is continuing his evidence later, claims he struggled to radio the control room to pass on the information.
Minutes later Abedi, 22, left his position out of sight of CCTV in the foyer of the Arena, known as the City Room, and walked towards the crowd emerging at the end of the gig at 10.31pm on May 22 2017.
The inquiry heard he was smiling seconds before he detonated his home-made rucksack bomb, packed with thousands of nuts and bolts, murdering 22 bystanders and injuring hundreds more.
Mr Lawler told the inquiry he had had some counter-terrorism training provided by his employer Showsec, and he was aware the terror threat level at the time was ‘severe’, meaning an attack was likely.
He said: ‘I think I was naive at the time to the situation. It was one of those things, it was possible but it wouldn’t happen to me.
‘You see it on the news, it’s not on your doorstep.’
Sir John Saunders, chairman of the inquiry, asked him: ‘It happens to other people?’ Mr Lawler replied: ‘Yes.’
His Showsec colleague, Mohammed Agha, told him a member of the public had raised concerns about Abedi, who was hanging around outside the Arena at an Ariana Grande concert, but he needed to remain guarding the fire exit and did not have a radio unlike Mr Lawler
He had done some unpaid training provided by Showsec, and knew that the protocol if a suspicious person was spotted was to observe and report to the control room at the Arena, he said.
Paul Greaney QC, counsel to the inquiry, asked him about the problem with the radio after Mr Agha passed on the report about Abedi, about 15 minutes before the bombing.
Mr Greaney said: ‘You are going to tell us you struggled to get through?’
Mr Lawler said: ‘If someone was already talking on the radio you were not able to transmit messages over them speaking.’
The 22 victims of the terror attack during the Ariana Grande concert at the Manchester Arena in May 2017
He claimed the problem had been brought up before by more senior members of staff but said he could not recall their names.
The inquiry heard that Mr Lawler, from Salford, left school at 16 and began an apprenticeship working 7am to 4pm, before going straight to Showsec events from 5.30pm to 11.30pm, working as a £4.24 per hour steward.
Before the bombing, he said, he had never dealt with a report of a suspicious person and was not aware that where Abedi was hiding in the foyer was a CCTV blindspot, thought to have been identified by the bomber during previous ‘hostile reconnaissance’.
The public inquiry is looking at the background circumstances before and during the bombing and is expected to last into next spring.
The hearing continues.