A security guard had a “bad feeling” about Salman Abedi as he watched the Manchester Arena bomber, but did not stop him because he feared being branded a racist.
Kyle Lawler was only metres away from Abedi, who had already been reported to security because he looked “dodgy,” a public inquiry heard.
“I felt unsure about what to do. It’s very difficult to define a terrorist. For all I knew he might well be an innocent Asian male. I did not want people to think I am stereotyping him because of his race,” said Mr Lawler, who was 18 at the time.
“I was scared of being wrong and being branded a racist if I got it wrong and would have got into trouble. It made me hesitant. I wanted to get it right and not mess it up by overreacting or judging someone by their race.”
Paul Greaney QC, counsel to the inquiry, asked: “If you were to approach him and he was some innocent kid, people might think you were racist?”
Mr Lawler replied “yes”.
Abedi was reported to security at 10.15pm on May 22, 2017, carrying a bulky backpack which contained the bomb as an Ariana Grande concert went on inside.
Around eight minutes before the device was detonated, steward Mohammed Ali Agha alerted Mr Lawler to the report by a member of the public and both began observing Abedi.
Mr Lawler said: “At that time he was just an Asian male sat among a group of white people.
“As Ali turned to have a look he’s clocked that we are looking at him. He’s become fidgety with his hands. No sudden movements. He was watching us, watching him.
“He would kind of look, slightly look away and look back at us.”
In his statement to police, Mr Lawler said: “I just had a bad feeling about him but did not have anything to justify that.”
Mr Lawler said he attempted to use his radio to alert the security control room but that he could not get through due to radio traffic.
He then left the area and took up his position on a walkway bridge outside the City Room and made no further attempt to raise the alarm.
Mr Lawler agreed he simply “gave up” trying to use the radio and just got on with his job.
About five minutes later, Abedi got to his feet and walked across the room towards the crowd emerging from the arena at the end of the gig at 10.31pm.
The rucksack bomb, packed with nuts and bolts, killed 22 bystanders and injured hundreds more.