21 Oct Manchester Arena attack: Steward ‘spoke to bomber four hours before attack’, inquiry hears | UK News
The Manchester Arena bomber spoke to a steward during a recce four hours before the attack, the inquiry has been told.
Robert Atkinson said his role at the Ariana Grande concert was mainly to field questions from the public and looking out for suspicious characters was “not at the top of my list.”
Salman Abedi could be seen in footage mingling with young girls and their parents as they headed to the City Room foyer where he was later to detonate his device.
Mr Atkinson was seen speaking to Abedi on CCTV before the bomber skipped down the steps from the arena and returned to the central Manchester flat where he had built his bomb.
Less than two hours later, Abedi passed Mr Atkinson again, this time bent over with a heavy rucksack on his back, as he headed to the foyer.
Abedi walked over the bridge twice more with his rucksack bomb as he went to and from the tram station platform below, but Mr Atkinson was not on duty.
Asked if he could remember what Abedi asked him during the exchange at 6.35pm on 22 May 2017, Mr Atkinson said he had “no recollection at all”.
He also said he had no memory of seeing Abedi return. The steward said his job was predominantly to “meet and greet people and provide directions when required” before and after events.
He said he was “mainly fielding questions from members of the public regarding directions [and] what time the event would end”.
Mr Atkinson said the public would ask “what time the event would end, where was the best place to collect children, brothers, sisters and so forth, directions for the train station, car parks and taxi rank”.
The inquiry also heard another steward was “really quite dismissive” when a suspicious character was pointed out to him in the minutes before the bombing.
The exchange between a “concerned” parent and the steward, Mohammed Agha, was witnessed by another parent, Tom McCallum.
Mr McCallum was standing between five and six feet away when Chris Wild came down from the mezzanine floor to tell Mr Agha he had seen a suspicious man with a large rucksack.
Mr McCallum became aware of the conversation “pretty much as soon as it started because I wondered why a member of the public had come to speak to a security guard”.
The conversation went “something along the lines of, ‘Have you seen the guy up there? He’s totally out of it.’ Words to that affect,” he said.
He said Mr Agha’s response “was along the lines of, ‘Yeah, yeah we’ve seen him, he’s fine’.”
“My overarching memory of that was it was really quite dismissive,” Mr McCallum said.
In another revelation, a security supervisor on the night of the attack, Jordan Beak, told the inquiry that checking the area where the bomber was hiding was “at the bottom of a list of things to do”.
He said he finished the “pre-egress” checks to make sure routes were clear for the crowd to leave 15 minutes before the attack, but only glanced at the area where Mr Abedi was shielded.