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The third inquiry into the 2017 arena bombing concludes that security services missed a "significant" opportunity to prevent the attack
By James Hanley on 02 Mar 2023
The final volume of three inquiries into the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing has concluded that security services missed a “significant” opportunity to take action that could have prevented the attack.
The Manchester Arena Inquiry, led by chairman Sir John Saunders, today published the third of three reports about the bombing, which killed 22 people at an Ariana Grande concert on 22 May 2017.
In the 226-page report, Sir John detailed his findings and recommendations on radicalisation and preventability, including looking at whether MI5 and counter-terror police could have stopped the bomber Salman Abedi carrying out the attack.
He said the reasons for the significant missed opportunity included a failure by a security service officer to act swiftly enough.
“I have found a significant missed opportunity to take action that might have prevented the attack,” he says. “It is not possible to reach any conclusion on the balance of probabilities or to any other evidential standard, as to whether the attack would have been prevented.
“However, there was a realistic possibility that actionable intelligence could have been obtained which might have led to action preventing the attack. The reason for this missed opportunity included a failure by the security service, in my view, to act swiftly enough.”
“Gathering covert intelligence is difficult – but had we managed to seize the slim chance we had, those impacted might not have experienced such appalling loss and trauma”
The inquiry also identified problems with the sharing of information between the security service and counter terrorism policing, although “none of these problems is likely to have had any causative significance”.
In response to the report, MI5 director general Ken McCallum says he is “profoundly sorry” the intelligence service did not prevent the attack.
“The terrorist attack at the Manchester Arena was a terrible tragedy,” says McCallum. “The bomber killed 22 innocent people and harmed many others. My thoughts are with the families and friends of those killed, and with all those whose lives were changed by this appalling act of terrorism.
“Having examined all the evidence, the chair of the inquiry has found that ‘there was a realistic possibility that actionable intelligence could have been obtained which might have led to actions preventing the attack.’ I deeply regret that such intelligence was not obtained. Gathering covert intelligence is difficult – but had we managed to seize the slim chance we had, those impacted might not have experienced such appalling loss and trauma. I am profoundly sorry that MI5 did not prevent the attack.”
“Since the terrible events of 2017 we have made more than 100 improvements. But we are determined to do more”
He continues: “The people of MI5 and our policing partners come to work every day to stop terrorism. We continually work to improve the counter-terrorism system; since the terrible events of 2017 we have made more than 100 improvements. But we are determined to do more. As the chair now considers his recommendations, we will engage fully.
“Where there are opportunities to strengthen the UK’s defences further, MI5 will act. We will continue to do everything in our power to keep our country safe from hidden threats. MI5 exists to stop atrocities. To all those whose lives were forever changed on that awful night: I am so sorry that MI5 did not prevent the attack at the Manchester Arena.”
The second inquiry into the attack, published in November 2022, made a series of recommendations for events after identifying numerous failings by the emergency services.
The inquiry heard that firefighters did not arrive at the venue until two hours after the explosion, only one paramedic entered the scene in the first 40 minutes. Greater Manchester Police did not declare a major incident for more than two hours.
It concluded that injuries suffered by one of the victims – 28-year-old John Atkinson – were survivable but for “inadequacies” in the emergency response, and found that the venue’s then event healthcare provider Emergency Training UK (ETUK) “had not adequately prepared to deal with a major incident response”.
Among Sir John’s 149 recommendations within the report were that “a standard should be set for the level of event healthcare services that are required for any particular event”.
The latest findings also follow the first report, published in June 2021, which found there were multiple “missed opportunities” to prevent or minimise the impact of the bombing.
The report, which looked into security arrangements at the arena on the night of the bombing, concluded that the bomber should have been identified as a threat on the night of the attack.
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