A father waiting to collect his four daughters at the end of Ariana Grande’s Manchester Arena concert said his first thought on seeing Salman Abedi was “suicide bomber”, the inquiry into the terror attack heard.
Neil Hatfield said he noticed a young man “in the process of lying down” as he approached a staircase to the raised mezzanine level of the City Room foyer about 10 minutes before the explosion at 10.31pm on May 22 2017.
The man was dressed all in black, wearing white trainers, with a backpack on the floor next to him, he said.
Mr Hatfield said: “I noticed straightaway that whatever was in the bag was solid.
“It was rock solid and that’s what alarmed me.
“Alarm bells in my head just went straight away.
“I thought ‘suicide bomber’ straight away, without very little doubt in my mind.
“My heart was racing.
“He looked like a terrorist.
“I don’t know how to explain it, like a Bond villain.
“It was the bag, it was massive.”
He said he tried to convince himself the man on the mezzanine level was not a bomber but it was “constantly on his mind” as he then saw two security guards below who appeared to be in conversation.
The young man was sitting on the top step of the stairs when he next turned round to check on him, said Mr Hatfield.
He said: “As far as I knew they knew he was there and were talking about him and they were going to do something about it.
“It sort of gave me a bit of relief but I was still watching him.
“I looked him in his eyes and I could see he was emotionally distressed.
“He seemed scared.
“He seemed frightened, he didn’t seem right.
“My heart was getting faster and faster, and I was thinking this guy is moving into position to do something right now.
“I thought to myself if that’s a bomb we were all dead, I really did.
“I thought he was to get up and do exactly what he did.
“I thought he was going to get up, walk into the middle of the room and do what he did.
“I kept looking to the doors thinking the police were going to come in.
“I thought they’d be there.
“I thought they’d be on it.
“I really did.
“I thought the security knew he was there.
“It was horrible situation to be in, I felt hopeless.
“He had a phone to his head, he had his head down, he was trudging along, it (the bag) was very heavy.
“He got into the crowd and he almost disappeared from view and I was like ‘where is he?’
“I almost had a bit of relief, he’s not doing anything.
“Then there was a massive flash of light.”