Manchester Arena attack investigation: Security service failures will not be covered, families pledged

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The families of 22 people who died in the Manchester Arena bombing have been promised that any errors by police or security services will not be covered up during an ongoing investigation.

During a hearing on Friday, the lawyers of the bereaved asked for a “maximum exposure” of any oversight and failure of the authorities in the approach of the terrorist attack of May 22, 2017.

The public inquiry is to explore whether MI5 and the counterterrorism police could or should have prevented suicide bomber Salman Abedi and his brother Hachem from plotting and committing the murder of 22 people at an Ariana Grande concert.

Abedi, 22, had been known to the security services since July 2014, three years before killing 10 teenagers and children, eight women and four men.

He had also been made a “topic of interest” at one point and was in contact and made prison visits to jailed terrorist Abdulraouf Abdallah, both discussing “martyrdom” operations.

The chairman of the inquiry, Sir John Saunders, has ruled that some evidence will be heard in private “closed” sessions without the presence of the mourners, their lawyers and the press.

He said sensitive evidence heard in public could compromise national security by revealing the operations and methods of the security services that terrorists could then use to avoid getting caught in attacks in the future.

Several witnesses are also expected to testify anonymously behind closed doors, with only limited and pre-verified information that will be made public later.

Witnesses include counterterrorism police, an MI5 witness, and Witness Z, a former MI5 officer who will give his opinion on the performance of the security services.

John Cooper QC, representing a number of families, said he did not disagree with the position of the closed hearings, but called for “maximum disclosure” where possible to ensure safety national law is not used as a general measure to restrict public knowledge of errors.

He added: “National security and the cover-up of embarrassment… you are very aware of that here.

“This is something that some of us have seen in other spheres, in investigations into military deaths, that sometimes, something called national security, we oppose the writing, we are successful and actually seeing the writing, and it’s nothing more than potentially just an embarrassing piece of material.

In response, Sir John said he was “even more determined” to ensure that MI5 or police mistakes were not covered up.

He said: “Mr. Cooper, I hope to further reassure families, you and I have over the past two weeks heard some of the most heartbreaking evidence I have ever heard in court.

“And we were all deeply touched by that, and the idea that I would let the security service cover up errors in order to avoid embarrassment is something I can assure you, I would not have done so even though I hadn’t heard the heartbreaking evidence, but I’m even more determined.

“Likewise, I would also seek to do everything I can not to disclose things that would cause other people to suffer the kind of torment that the families in this matter have suffered.

“So it’s the balance on both sides, and I can understand well their desire to know absolutely everything they can know, and any mistakes that have been made.

“But I know the last thing any of them would want is something to happen in this investigation that would lead to something like or make it easier for something like this to be repeated.”

Hearings on the preventability of the attack are scheduled to begin next month. The investigation was adjourned until next Monday.


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