A police constable “probably” would have asked Salman Abedi what was in his heavy rucksack if she had not missed him minutes earlier because of an “unacceptable” two hour-plus shift break, an inquiry has heard.
British Transport Police (BTP) officer Jessica Bullough came back on patrol shortly after suicide bomber Abedi walked along Victoria railway station platform towards the City Room foyer of the Manchester Arena where he detonated his home-made explosives at the end of an Ariana Grande concert.
Pc Bullough told the public inquiry into the terror attack which killed 22 people and injured hundreds others on May 22 2017 that her break should have been between 50 minutes and one hour but instead she was off patrol for two hours and nine minutes.
Paul Greaney QC, counsel to the inquiry, asked her: “When you look back, does that seem to be acceptable?”
She replied: “No, unacceptable.”
Mr Greaney went on: “You had just missed Salman Abedi walking to the City Room from the train platform.
“Obviously we all know what he is about to do but if you had come on patrol 10 minutes earlier and you had seen that man walking in that way would you have regarded him as suspicious?”
Pc Bullough said: “Even though it was a train station with people travelling with large rucksacks on their back… looking at the footage if he had walked past me with that bag on his back I probably would have asked him what was in it.”
She said her suspicions would have been raised by somebody walking “nearly to the ground” with a heavy rucksack.
Last week the inquiry was told about 30 minutes before the explosion a security worker, checking for merchandise bootleggers, had briefly drawn Pc Bullough’s attention to a “praying crank” on the upstairs level of the foyer.
Pc Bullough said she had no recollection of anyone approaching her to raise concerns and was “confident” that no-one told her about a person praying.
She later became the first member of the emergency services to arrive at the scene of the explosion after she “overtook colleagues” as she dashed across and provided assistance to casualties.
Manchester Magistrates’ Court heard Pc Bullough, who joined BTP in July 2016, was the most experienced officer at the Arena complex after another constable with 30 years of experience was called away to deal with a burglary suspect at Piccadilly rail station.
Stephen Corke said he normally would have been standing on the raised level of the foyer from about 10pm for concerts but he would have been at the opposite end to where Abedi hid for nearly an hour out of sight of CCTV cameras.
When the bomb was detonated there were no uniformed officers in the foyer despite instructions that one officer should be positioned there at the end of the concert.
The inquiry, expected to conclude next spring, continues on Tuesday.