Manchester Arena inquiry: MI5 braced for criticism in final report

Victim’s mother expects ‘catalogue of mistakes’ to be exposed in Sir John Saunders’ report on 2017 atrocity

The mother of a victim of the Manchester Arena attack has said she expects “a whole catalogue of mistakes” to be laid bare when a landmark report on the atrocity is published on Thursday.

MI5 is braced for criticism from the report, which will examine whether the deadliest terror attack in Britain since 7/7 could have been prevented.

Sir John Saunders, the chair of the public inquiry, will also scrutinise the role of counter-terrorism police and whether more could have been done to deradicalise the suicide bomber, Salman Abedi.

Figen Murray, whose 28-year-old son, Martyn Hett, was among 22 people killed in the explosion in May 2017, said she expected the security services to be criticised for their failure to apprehend Abedi sooner.

She said: “Just like with volume 1 and volume 2 [of the inquiry], I expect there will be a whole catalogue of mistakes. Sometimes it feels like the attack was doomed to happen. It feels like so many things went wrong.”

The inquiry, which began in September 2020, has already published a highly critical report on the performance of the emergency services on the night, concluding that two of the victims could have survived had they not faced an “interminable” wait for treatment.

The final report will cast the focus on to MI5 and police. Abedi had been on and off the radar of security services for seven years before his attack at the end of an Ariana Grande concert.

Saunders is expected to examine Abedi’s connections to known extremists, including one who he was in frequent contact with in the run-up to the attack, and why he was not questioned when he returned from fighting alongside Islamists in Libya four days before the arena attack.

Within MI5, the atrocity is considered one of the darkest days in the history of the Security Service. Abedi was on the fringes of the spy agency’s radar, one of 20,000 closed subjects of interest in 2017, yet he was able to assemble a homemade bomb without his purchases or activity being picked up by the agency or police.

A solicitor who represents 11 of the bereaved families said the inquiry must answer why “nobody joined the dots” and monitored Abedi more closely.

Richard Scorer, of the law firm Slater and Gordon, said: “Did counter-terrorism police and security services have the resources to do their job properly? Were their systems and IT up to scratch? How did they let Salman Abedi fall through the cracks? These are the crucial questions that we want Sir John to answer because it is only by facing these issues honestly and making the necessary changes that we can prevent future atrocities.”

Murray, who has campaigned for a new law to force public venues to mitigate the threat from terrorism, said she would accept an apology from MI5 if one were forthcoming, and it was crucial that lessons were learned.

She said: “I accept apologies, because not accepting them would turn me into someone who is angry and cross, and I don’t do anger. If somebody was to offer an apology or say ‘we hold our hands up, we made a mistake’ then that’s fine … as long as there are positive changes in the future.”


Josh Halliday and Dan Sabbagh

The GuardianTramp

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