Sniffer dogs and more CCTV among improvements made to Manchester Arena – inquiry

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A general view of the Manchester Arena prior to the We Are Manchester benefit show (PA) (PA Archive)
A general view of the Manchester Arena prior to the We Are Manchester benefit show (PA) (PA Archive)

The introduction of sniffer dogs and more CCTV cameras are among the improvements made to the Manchester Arena since the 2017 terror attack, an expert has said.

Gary Simpson, security director for SMG Europe, which runs venues including the Arena, told an inquiry into the atrocity he is “more than happy and comfortable with the type of arrangements we now have in place”.

The hearing resumed at Manchester Magistrates’ Court on Monday following a Christmas hiatus.

If you scrutinise what happened on the night, I think detection dogs would have provided a good level of reassurance

Gary Simpson, security director

When asked by counsel to the inquiry, Nicholas de la Poer QC, whether a “CCTV blind-spot” at the Arena had been addressed, Mr Simpson said it had.

Mr Simpson, appointed to his role in April 2018 after it was created in light of the attack, told the inquiry more cameras were fitted last summer and any blind spots now have “mitigation plans” in place.

The director, who formerly worked in the royal military police and as deputy head of security at Manchester United Football Club, added: “All CCTV systems have areas which are not covered.

“But every venue has got plans as to which areas are covered and which aren’t covered, and whether they present a risk at different stages so that mitigation is put in place where necessary.”

Witnesses to the attack previously told the inquiry suicide bomber Salman Abedi looked nervous while hiding in a CCTV blind spot on a mezzanine floor in the Arena’s City Room.

Martyn Hett, a Manchester Arena attack victim whose mother has been campaigning since his death (PA) (PA Media)
Martyn Hett, a Manchester Arena attack victim whose mother has been campaigning since his death (PA) (PA Media)

But Andrew O’Connor QC, also representing SMG, previously said it was “inherently unlikely” CCTV surveillance would have flagged Abedi as suspicious.

Mr Simpson said SMG began “the process of acquiring canine support services” in February 2021.

Police dogs searched for secondary devices among abandoned items in the arena following the explosion, but Mr Simpson said having them present ahead of the concert would have provided “reassurance” to the public.

He told the inquiry: “If you scrutinise what happened on the night, I think detection dogs would have provided a good level of reassurance and for me it’s a key learning that we identified.”

Mr Simpson said the development of metal detection technology tailored to entertainment venues will also improve security at large venues.

Figen Murray, Martyn Hett’s mother, welcomed plans to legally force venues to have anti-terror plans in place (PA) (PA Media)
Figen Murray, Martyn Hett’s mother, welcomed plans to legally force venues to have anti-terror plans in place (PA) (PA Media)

He said: “Over the last three years there has been a huge growth in artificial intelligence-driven security technology.

“Most technology that is currently used at entertainment events has predominantly been designed for airport usage, prison usage, court usage, those types of things, and it’s made to squeeze into an environment of an entertainment venue – it doesn’t quite fit.

“Now that technology companies have realised that, they have produced products which are used for weapon detection systems rather than just metal detection systems.”

Assistant Chief Constable for the British Transport Police Sean O’Callaghan, also told the inquiry on Monday police reforms in light of the bombing include equipping all front-line officers with tourniquets.

Meanwhile, the Home Office is mulling over plans to impose a legal duty on venues to be prepared for potential terror attacks.

The move has been welcomed as “a giant step in the right direction” by Figen Murray, the mother of Martyn Hett, who died in the bombing aged 29.

The inquiry continues.

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