A senior police chief has admitted that officers who failed to patrol the site of the Manchester Arena bomb “let the public down”.
An inquiry into the terrorist attack heard that two British Transport Police (BTP) officers left the area to take a meal break of more than two hours, involving a five-mile trip to buy kebabs.
Sean O’Callaghan, the assistant chief constable of BTP, said officers were supposed to have been patrolling the area where the suicide bomber Salman Abedi detonated his vest, but were not present.
The inquiry heard that the BTP deployment on the night of the attack consisted of one officer who was still on probation and just eight months into the job, and three police community support officers (PCSOs).
Paul Greaney QC, counsel to the inquiry, said things that it “might be concluded went wrong” on the night of the attack included having only four officers on duty – and none at the time Abedi made his “final approach” to the arena foyer for the end of the concert.
The police constable and one of her PCSO colleagues on duty took a two-hour lunch break, he said, and there was no police officer in the room for the end of the gig as dictated by a police sergeant’s instructions.
Greaney said to O’Callaghan: “I’m going to ask you a blunt question, which is: is it fair to say on the 22nd of May 2017, before the attack, BTP let the public down in their policing of the City Room?”
O’Callaghan, who was not serving with BTP at the time of the attack, replied: “The attack that happened that night certainly happened on our watch, yes. It was our responsibility to police that arena, and that attack happened when we were policing it and there were police officers deployed or planned to be deployed to the site of the attack and they were not there. So, in that term, yes.”
The public inquiry is examining the circumstances before, during and after the moment Abedi detonated his homemade rucksack bomb at the end of an Ariana Grande concert at the arena, killing 22 bystanders and injuring hundreds more.
O’Callaghan said he agreed with the overall BTP risk assessment of the chances of an attack or violence on the night of the concert as “low”, despite the UK terrorist threat level being “severe” at the time, meaning an attack was “highly likely” to occur.
Greaney pointed to the deadly attacks in Paris on the Bataclan music venue in Paris and Stade de France in November 2015 and an attempted attack at an outdoor concert in Germany the previous year.
But O’Callaghan said the only suicide bomb attack in the UK had been 12 years previously and there had been no previous attacks on Manchester Arena or any other entertainment venue in the UK, nor any specific intelligence on a possible terrorist attack.
The threat level had been “severe” for the previous two years and nine months and was at the same level for a previous Ariana Grande concert there in 2015, he added.
“Terrorism is in the mind of every police officer in the country and every BTP officer going about their business, whether on duty or off duty. I don’t believe for one minute that consideration wasn’t in the officers’ minds,” O’Callaghan said.