British intelligence officers will be able to give evidence about the build-up to the Manchester Arena bombing in private following a decision today.
It will be the first time that an inquiry into a terrorist attack on mainland Britain has taken place partly behind closed doors since 9/11.
Home Secretary Priti Patel previously applied for key parts of the intelligence material about the bomber to be kept secret due to ‘national security considerations’ – including a statement provided by MI5 from a person known only as ‘Witness X’.
Some of the evidence in the inquests into the victims of the Manchester bombings will be kept secret following a decision by the Home Secretary today
The coroner has since granted her application and asked for the inquests to convert the inquest into an inquiry so that he could consider the material behind closed doors.
Ms Patel has now approved his request, which has the effect that the public and victims’ families will be excluded from some parts of the hearing.
Sir John has previously suggested that there is a large amount of material, saying that the issue of ‘preventability’ would require the inquiry to be ‘almost exclusively held in closed session.’
The move is a break from tradition, with the 7/7 inquests, Westminster and London Bridge inquests all took place in public, even though the last one involved a live MI5 investigation which failed to stop the attack.
Vicky Richardson, of Hudgell Solicitors, who are representing the families of two victims, said it is vital that ‘answers are provided’ and the security services learn lessons.
But, she added: ‘We have full confidence that Sir John Saunders, who will lead the inquiry, will ensure the right processes are followed, that key questions are asked and all areas of concern are fully investigated to firstly deliver the answers people both want and need, and secondly to identify appropriate recommendations to prevent future, similar devastating events happening in our country.’
Flowers and tributes left in St Ann’s Square in Manchester in June 2017, following the attack
At a previous hearing where the issue was discussed, John Cooper, a lawyer representing the families of 11 of the 22 victims, said the secrecy application had come from ‘the very people who could potentially be severely criticised’.
Mr Cooper told a hearing that both the security service and police were open to ‘severe analysis with potentially severe and critical consequences.’
He said the applications were ‘very important’ for the families and ‘go to the root of understanding what happened to their loved ones as well as a wider public understanding.’
Home Secretary Priti Patel (at 10 Downing Street in Westminster today) said she made the decision after ‘careful consideration’
Retired High Court judge Sir John Saunders will lead the inquiry into the attack at an Ariana Grande gig in May 2017 which left 22 people dead and 260 injured.
Sir John was nominated by the Lord Chief Justice to lead the investigation and inquest into the deaths caused by Salman Abedi, 22, detonating a suicide vest.
Ms Patel said she made the decision after ‘careful consideration of advice from Sir John that inquest proceedings should be adjourned and an inquiry established’.
She said: ‘It is vital that those who survived or lost loved ones in the Manchester Arena attack get the answers that they need and that we learn the lessons, whatever they may be.
‘This process is an important step for those affected as they look to move on from the attack and I know that they want answers as quickly as possible.
‘I am determined to make this happen, while ensuring the proper processes are followed.
‘Now that the coroner has decided that an inquest cannot properly investigate the deaths, I have agreed to establish an inquiry to consider all the information so that he can make appropriate recommendations.’
The Government insisted the inquiry ‘will have the same scope as the current inquest’ and the arrangements for it will now be a matter for the chair.
A spokesman said: ‘The Home Office will provide support and ensure that the inquiry has the resources that it needs.’
Lawyers for the families in the inquest have not been granted legal aid and hope that once it is a public inquiry they will find it easier to seek funding.
In the aftermath of the attack there was a nationwide outpouring of grief with families and friends of the victims left devastated.
The attack saw 22 people killed by the improvised explosive device which was carried in a rucksack. More than 260 were injured, with 600 people reporting psychological harm.
Saffie Rose Roussos, eight, was the youngest victim to die in the attack, alongside Martyn Hett, 29, Georgina Callander, 18, Olivia Campbell, 15, off-duty police officer Elaine McIver, 43, John Atkinson, 26, Kelly Brewster, 32, Alison Lowe, 44, and friend Lisa Lees, 43.
Marcin Kils, 42, and Angelika Kils, 39, Nell Jones, 14, Jane Tweddle, 51, Michelle Kiss, 45, Sorrell Leczkowski, 14, Chloe Rutherford, 17, and Liam Curry, 19, Eilidh MacLeod, 14, Wendy Fawell, 50, Courtney Boyle, 19, and her stepfather Philip Tron, 32, and Megan Hurley, 15, were also named as victims.
Hudgell Solicitors, which represents the families of two victims, said the need to satisfy the need of survivors and victims’ relatives for answers should be ‘remembered at all stages’.
The firm’s Vicky Richardson said: ‘It is also crucial that the security services and police learn vital lessons to ensure all is done to prevent a similar attack in the future.
‘Whilst we appreciate that many will have concerns over some elements of the inquiry being held in private, we fully understand the reasoning behind the decision to allow issues of national security to be considered and investigated out of the public spotlight.’
The inquiry into the Manchester bombings deaths: Q&A
Why aren’t inquests into the Manchester bombing victims’ deaths being held in completely in public?
The original plan was to hold public inquests into the deaths of the 22 victims, like those held into the deaths of those killed in the 7/7 bombings and the Westminster and London Bridge attacks.
However, the coroner, Sir John Saunders, previously granted an application by Home Secretary Priti Patel to exclude key intelligence material on national security grounds.
He then applied to have the inquests turned into a public inquiry, which would allow some of the evidence to be heard in private. Ms Patel has now granted that request.
What information could be hidden from the public?
Sir John has suggested that there is a large amount of material, saying that the issue of ‘preventability’ would require the inquiry to be ‘almost exclusively held in closed session.’
The coroner said there was a ‘residual quantity of relevant information which it has not been possible to include’ in witness statements by two key witnesses, one of them known as ‘Witness X’, for MI5, and the other Det Chief Supt Dominic Scally, for Greater Manchester Police.
What is the scope of the new inquiry?
Sir John has asked that the terms of reference should still cover four questions: Whether the attack by Salman Abedi could have been prevented by the authorities, the build-up to the attack, the security arrangements at the arena and the emergency response to the bombing.
When will it take place and how long will it take?
It is due to go ahead on April 6 next year and to last around three months.
The 22 victims of the Manchester Arena bombing in May 2017
Elaine McIver, 43: The off-duty police officer died in the attack, which injured her husband and children
Saffie Rose Roussos , 8: The youngest victim was separated from her mother and sister in the seconds after the blast.
Sorrell Leczkowski and Eilidh MacLeod
Sorrell Leczkowski , 14: Schoolgirl died in the bomb blast, while her mother, Samantha and grandmother Pauline were badly hurt.
Eilidh MacLeod , 14: Confirmed dead having been missing since being caught up in the blast with her friend Laura MacIntyre.
Nell Jones , 14: Farmer’s daughter travelled to the pop concert with her best friend for her 14th birthday.
Olivia Campbell-Hardy , 15: Her family searched desperately for her for nearly 48 hours and even went on TV to plead for news, before they learned of her death.
Courtney Boyle and Philip Tron
Megan Hurley , 15: The Liverpool schoolgirl was with her brother who suffered serious injuries in the blast.
Georgina Callander , 18: Met Ariana Grande backstage at a previous gig and died in hospital with her mother at her bedside.
Chloe Rutherford , 17, and Liam Curry , 19: Couple from South Shields ‘wanted to be together forever and now they are’, their family said.
John Atkinson and Martyn Hett
Courtney Boyle , 19, and Philip Tron , 32: Criminology student and her stepfather were confirmed dead following a Facebook appeal.
John Atkinson , 26: Pop fan from Radcliffe, Greater Manchester, was in a local dance group and was leaving the gig when the blast happened.
Martyn Hett , 29: Public relations manager from Stockport, who was due to start a two-month ‘holiday of a lifetime’ to the US two days later.
Kelly Brewster and Angelika Klis
Kelly Brewster , 32: Civil servant from Sheffield who died trying to shield her 11-year-old niece.
Marcin Kils , 42, and Angelika Kils , 39: Both killed as they waited for their daughters who both survived the blast.
Michelle Kiss , 45: Mother-of-three from Clitheroe, Lancashire, went to the gig with her daughter.
Marcin Klis and Michelle Kiss
Alison Lowe , 44, and friend Lisa Lees , 43: Both killed when they arrived to pick up their teenage daughters who were not hurt.
Wendy Fawell , 50: Mother from Leeds was killed while picking up her children with a friend.
Jane Tweddle, 51: Mother of three from Blackpool was killed as she waited to collect a friend’s daughter.
(Left to right:) Alison Howe, Lisa Lees, Wendy Fawell and Jane Tweddle