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Manchester Arena bombing: ‘Obsessive secrecy’ may have limited opportunities to stop attack, inquiry hears

Written by on 28 October 2021

“Obsessive secrecy” may have limited opportunities to stop the Manchester Arena bomber, because intelligence was not shared with the wider community, the inquiry into the attack has heard.

Terror attacker Salman Abedi was investigated as a “subject of interest” by MI5 between March and July 2014, three years before the attack, and appeared in two further investigations.

On two separate occasions in the months before the attack, intelligence was received by the security service which was assessed to relate to possible criminality on the part of Salman Abedi but, in retrospect, was “highly relevant to the planned attack”.

However, the inquiry heard that the information was not shared with police and a meeting to consider re-opening the case was scheduled for nine days after the attack.

Lawyers for the victims’ families said even if the case was not re-opened, Abedi should have been directed towards the government’s Prevent de-radicalisation programme, or given a “tap on the shoulder”.

They asked Detective Chief Superintendent Dominic Scally, the head of Counter-Terrorism Policing North West (CTPNW), if more could have been done by MI5 to find alternative ways of intervening.

Sir John Saunders, the inquiry chairman, asked Mr Scally: “There is a view that an obsessive sense of secrecy has actually made things worse – a higher priority than was necessary was attached to secrecy.

More on Manchester Bombing

“I understand they operate in a secret space, but is there a risk that they say ‘we can’t tell you anything,’ even if, if they had done so, they might have got the very information back that could have stopped an attack?”

People stand next to flowers for the victims of Monday's bombing at St Ann's Square in central Manchester, England, Friday, May 26 2017. British police investigating the Manchester Arena bombing arrested a ninth man while continuing to search addresses associated with the bomber. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)             Image: 22 were killed in the terror attack

New measures have been adopted after the attack as part of recommendations made in a post-attack review which meant there had been “a change in the landscape,” DCS Scally said.

There is now “much broader sharing of intelligence” and where “subjects of interest” have been closed by MI5 but are at “high risk” of reengaging, MI5 will now provide an “official sensitive” form of words for police to take to other government bodies.

“Multi-agency centres” manage the closed cases, along with some “nominals”, who are individuals still under active investigation.

DCS Scally said: “As detailed as possible form of words is given to us by MI5 and we work with local authorities and other agencies [saying] this is the risk of this individual, we will give you this information – which in the past we would not.”

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