The suicide bomber who killed at least 22 people, including an 8-year-old girl, in Manchester on Monday night took advantage of what security experts are calling a “key vulnerability” of many venues that allow the public to access areas near large crowds without being searched.
The explosion took place just after 10:30 p.m. local time, minutes after U.S. singer Ariana Grande left the stage at the Manchester Arena. It happened in the foyer of the venue with hundreds of people streaming toward the multi-story car park and Victoria train station.
While many concertgoers criticized the lax security inside the concert venue — with numerous reports claiming bags went unchecked — it’s unlikely that more robust bag searches would have prevented this tragedy.
“I think they spotted an inherent vulnerability with most large-scale events,” Sheelagh Brady, security analyst with SAR Consultancy, told VICE News. “The perpetrator identified a position where the public could gather and he was in quite a strategic position to attack the exiting crowd and therefore probably wasn’t going to be searched.”
Clare Goodband, who is from Grantham in Lincolnshire and attended the concert with her 17-year-old daughter, told VICE News she walked right through the area where the explosion occurred and took note that it was not being policed by security personnel. “You can just come and go; anyone can just walk through that bit without being checked,” she said.
Goodband and her daughter were still inside the venue when they “heard and felt the explosion.” Goodband said they had come into the concert venue via the entrance near where the bomb was detonated. However, they didn’t leave via this exit as it was too crowded. “If we had gone out the same way we came in, we could have been dead or injured ourselves,” she said.
Goodband was among those criticizing the level of security at the venue. She says that both her bag and her daughter’s were given a cursory check — mainly to remove bottles of water and fizzy drinks. “They didn’t check your jackets or anything, so anyone could have walked in there with guns and bombs wrapped around them. It was shocking that they didn’t check you.”
Others echoed Goodband’s view. “There was almost no security check, rather zero,” Nikola Trochtova, a concertgoer, told Czech public radio. “The only thing they were interested in was if we had any bottles of water with us. They almost didn’t check our bags; they didn’t take a look.”
Some pointed to a TripAdvisor review written last month about an Ed Sheeran gig at the same venue, in which one concertgoer warned: “There was no security on the door, which was quite alarming.”
The security company believed to be operating at the concert on Monday evening was ShowSec. No one was answering the phones at the company’s headquarters in Leicester on Tuesday despite repeated calls to the switchboard. The company’s website says it has worked with the operators of Manchester Arena since 1995.
The phones were also ringing out at the Manchester Arena when VICE News contacted them for a comment on the security arrangements at the venue. A message on the company’s website said it was working with police to help investigate this “senseless tragedy.” The Greater Manchester Police said it was not releasing any further details about the location of the attack or how it was carried out.
The police have said the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber who detonated an improvised explosive device (IED) and who died at the scene, with the explosion killing at least 22 people and injuring over 100. Just two of the victims have been identified so far — 8-year-old Saffie Rose Roussos and 18-year-old student Georgina Callander.
Graphic video footage has emerged of the aftermath of the attack, showing people sitting in pools of blood which is flowing from open wounds, with some reports suggesting the bomb left shrapnel embedded in children’s faces.
While some have drawn parallels with the attack on the Bataclan concert hall in Paris in December 2015, that is not necessarily an accurate comparison. “We aren’t talking about someone carrying semi-automatic weapons; we are talking about someone who was carrying a sealed IED,” Steve Park, a security analyst and former diplomatic and royal protection officer, told VICE News. “It seems to be a lone-wolf person at this point in time. It would have been very difficult to identify who he would have been, prior to the explosion.”
Goodband said that while she hoped the impact of being so close to the explosion wouldn’t deter her from going to concerts in the future, it will definitely stop her from returning to this particular venue.
“I don’t think I will go to Manchester for a long while [because] of seeing people covered in blood and not knowing what you were doing when you left the building,” she said.
Park believes venues will resume more-strenuous bag searches major events like this, but Brady said she is hoping for a “healthy reaction” to the attack. Rather than simply calling for more security inside the venue, she called for more security zones outside venues that remain in place after events, meaning that members of the public won’t be easily able to access areas with large crowds of people — which is what appears to have happened in this case.
“By bringing those out further, you are diluting the amount of people coming out from different locations, and you don’t have catch points, which was a key vulnerability last night,” Brady said