Families of Manchester Arena victims may be excluded from parts of inquiry

Manchester Arena attack[1]

Coroner says disclosing some MI5 and police evidence would threaten national security




The Manchester Arena bombing took place on 22 May 2017.Photograph: Benjamin Wareing/Alamy

Bereaved families of Manchester[2] Arena terrorism victims may be excluded from large parts of an inquiry into the attack after a coroner ruled that evidence from MI5 and the police should be kept secret. Sir John Saunders, the coroner of the Manchester Arena inquest, said in a ruling published on Friday that certain highly sensitive intelligence would risk national security if it became public. The decision means it is likely the inquest will be converted into a public inquiry, albeit one in which some evidence is heard in private without relatives of the victims or their legal teams.

Any coroner’s inquiry will take place after the trial of Hashem Abedi, the brother of the bomber, Salman Abedi, which will begin at the Old Bailey in London on 11 November. Families of the victims told a hearing earlier this month that transparency in the inquest was essential, amid concerns that some of the sensitive MI5 and police evidence highlighted “shortcomings” of the security services. John Cooper QC, who represents several of the families, said at a previous hearing[3]: “National security may not be the concern, but instead national humiliation.”

However, Saunders said he was satisfied that disclosing certain evidence would present a grave threat to national security. The coroner gave no detail about what information he was keeping secret but said it “would assist terrorists in carrying out the sort of atrocities committed in Manchester and would make it less likely that the security service and the CT [counter-terrorism] police would be able to prevent them”. Saunders added: “The risk which is identified in each case is that disclosure of the information will make it easier for terrorists to kill people by avoiding detection before they are able to carry [out] an attack.”

Having decided that some evidence should not be made public, the coroner said his “provisional view is that an adequate investigation … could not be conducted within the framework of the inquests”. It is understood Saunders would now consider converting the inquest into a public inquiry at a hearing in Manchester on 7 October. If that happened, it is likely that two reports would be produced at the end of the public inquiry; one that discussed the secret evidence and a public report that did not.

Families of the victims have said they appreciate the issue of national security concerns but that it is important the inquest investigates any failings by MI5 and the security services, as well as lessons that can be learned.

A parliamentary watchdog concluded last year[4] that there were a “number of failures” by police and MI5 in the run-up to the Arena bomb, which killed 23 people including Salman Abedi, and injured hundreds more on 22 May 2017.

That investigation found that Abedi, a subject of interest to MI5 but not under active investigation, had been flagged for review by the security service but its systems “moved too slowly” and the review did not happen before the attack.

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References

  1. ^ Manchester Arena attack (www.theguardian.com)
  2. ^ Manchester (www.theguardian.com)
  3. ^ previous hearing (www.bbc.co.uk)
  4. ^ concluded last year (www.theguardian.com)
  5. ^ Manchester Arena attack (www.theguardian.com)
  6. ^ Manchester (www.theguardian.com)
  7. ^ Greater Manchester (www.theguardian.com)
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