Families of the 22 people murdered in the Manchester Arena terror attack have accused MI5 of “significant failings” and told the security services, “Do not fail us again”.
A statement from loved ones of the bystanders who died in the suicide bombing by Salman Abedi in 2017 was read out after two days of evidence by a senior MI5 officer, identified only as witness J, to the public inquiry into the attack.
His evidence continues next week, but will be heard in private due to national security issues.
John Cooper QC, reading the families’ statement, said: “From the limited information we have been able to see, hear and read it seems clear to us, the families of those who were killed on the night of 22nd May, 2017, that there have been significant failings by MI5 that need to be addressed.
“We are not able to be part of the closed session but we urge you on behalf of those who were murdered on that night to fully co-operate with the inquiry in those closed sessions to be humble, accountable and fully open with the inquiry legal team. Do not fail us again.”
Lawyers for the families raised a number of issues questioning witness J and MI5’s handling of Abedi.
These included why Abedi was not subject to a “port stop” when he returned to the UK to execute the bomb plan and why he was not further investigated after his multiple contacts with suspected terrorists, his visits to a convicted terrorist in prison and why MI5 allegedly failed to “join the dots” about his activities.
It was suggested that the “cumulative” effect of multiple pieces of intelligence about Abedi should have led to him being made an MI5 “subject of interest” after the case on him was closed in 2014.
Witness J told the inquiry the intelligence was “fragments” of information and MI5 had nothing to suggest he was involved in an actual bomb plot, and that Abedi did not meet the “threshold” of investigation at the time.
Relatives of the 22 in the public gallery sat, arms folded and shaking their heads as witness J, screened from public view to protect his identity, gave his evidence.
Sir James Eadie QC, representing the Home Office, told the hearing that while he understood the families’ statement urging co-operation, it was unnecessary because MI5 was as determined as they were to learn any lessons from the attack.
Sir John Saunders, chairman of the inquiry sitting in Manchester, said the closed hearings were the best way to get to the truth, even though the families would not be able to hear the evidence.
He added: “I’m the person eventually who will decide whether there were failings. I will do that to the best of my ability.”
The inquiry is looking at all aspects of the suicide bombing by Abedi at the end of an Ariana Grande concert, which also left hundreds injured.
His younger brother, Hashem Abedi, was jailed for life for his part in the bomb plot on May 22, 2017.
The hearing was adjourned until Wednesday morning to hear from Detective Chief Superintendent Dominic Scally, head of Counter Terrorism Policing North West (CTPNW).