Arena families’ fury at MI5 errors
As the missed chances to stop bomber are revealed, father of young victim snubs agency chief’s apology
THE father of the youngest victim of the Manchester Arena bombing last night rejected an apology from the head of MI5 over his spies’ missed chance to foil the plot.
In a rare on-camera statement, the agency’s director general, Ken McCallum, said he was ‘profoundly sorry’ that the May 2017 attack that claimed 22 lives was not prevented.
But retired High Court judge Sir John Saunders, chairman of the inquiry into the atrocity, yesterday accused MI5 of a ‘significant missed opportunity’ to stop it, leaving loved ones of those killed furious.
Mr McCallum insisted there had been only a ‘slim chance’ that officers could have learnt Salman Abedi was planning his attack as a concert by pop star Ariana
‘I find that quite insulting’
Grande finished. But Andrew Roussos, 49, whose eight-year-old daughter Saffie-Rose was among the victims, said evidence showed MI5 had ‘loads of chances’.
Abedi had been on the authorities’ radar at least 23 times since 2010.
Blasting Mr McCallum for ‘ not taking responsibility for your own actions’, Mr Roussos said the report uncovered a ‘cataclysmic failure’ by MI5 which demonstrated that the agency was ‘not fit to keep us safe and therefore not fit for purpose’.
‘How can he apologise for losing my eight-year-old daughter when the evidence is so strong?’ he told Sky News. ‘ In the apology, he states there was a slim chance. I find that quite insulting when the evidence shows from 2010 right up to 2017 they didn’t have a slim chance, they had loads of chances.’
While thanking Sir John for his thoroughness, Mr Roussos said the report had not been sufficiently ‘hard-hitting’.
He spoke as bungling spies were also slammed by mothers of victims Liam Curry, 19, and his girlfriend Chloe Rutherford, 17, for ‘playing a part in the murder of our children’. Caroline Curry and Lisa Rutherford said they could ‘never forgive’ the spy agency following the publication of the third and final report of the public inquiry.
Had MI5 acted on two pieces of intelligence they were given and so put the bomber under surveillance, they could have uncovered his plan, Sir John said.
The nature of the information MI5 received about Abedi was given to the inquiry behind closed
doors, so may never be made public. In an excoriating attack after the report was published, Mrs Curry, 52, said: ‘ From top to bottom, MI5 to the associates of the attacker, we will always believe that you all played a part in the murder of our children.’
The first report, published in 2021 focused on security at the Arena and highlighted ‘missed opportunities’ to identify Abedi as a threat before he detonated his device.
The second, unveiled last November, exposed how shocking failings by emergency services left victims of the blast ‘dying without dignity’ – and said there was a chance that two, including Saffie-Rose, could have survived with better care.
‘So many people being paid that night to protect our kids, and yet so many failed in their duties,’ said a tearful Mrs Curry, of South Shields. ‘Professionals that had responsibility but clearly had other priorities. Security staff that even when told of the danger failed to act appropriately. Once again, we’ll never forgive you.’ As well as killing 22, plus Abedi, the backpack blast left hundreds injured.
Sir John highlighted how the two pieces of information about Abedi in the run-up to the attack were assessed by MI5 not to relate to terrorism – despite him being on its radar for seven years.
In closed hearings, the spy involved admitted they considered one to represent a possible presscluded
‘We’ll never forgive you’
ing national security concern – but did not discuss it with colleagues straight away and did not write up a report on the same day.
In his 207-page report, Sir John said MI5 had failed to ‘act swiftly enough’ – and that the delay ‘led to the missing of an opportunity to take a potentially important investigative action’.
Abedi was then on a month-long trip to Libya where Sir John conhe received ‘specific training in how to assemble an IED (improvised explosive device)’.
Had the intelligence been investigated – which Sir John concluded ‘should have happened’ – Abedi could have been placed under surveillance on his return from Libya four days before the bombing.
In addition, spies could have followed Abedi to the car he used to hide a quantity of TATP, known as ‘mother of Satan’, the explosive used in the bomb.
Had these steps happened, the inquiry head said, ‘ the attack might have been prevented’.
Sir John said the threat posed by radicalised boys from Libyan families such as Abedi and his brother Hashem, who is serving a life sentence with a minimum term of 55 years for assisting in the attack, had been known since 2010.
The chairman’s recommendations to security services will be published in a confidential document later. In response, Mr McCallum said: ‘I deeply regret 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.’
Promising to act on Sir John’s forthcoming recommendations, he added: ‘We will continue to do everything in our power to keep our country safe from hidden threats. MI5 exists to stop atrocities.’
Andy Burnham, Labour mayor of Greater Manchester, said the three volumes had exposed that ‘the country was not prepared for a terrorist attack of this nature in a city like ours’. And Head of Counter Terrorism Policing Matt Jukes said he was ‘sorry’ that despite the organisation’s ‘determined partnership’ with MI5, ‘we did not stop the loss of life’, in 2017.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said that the Government was ‘committed to learning the lessons of this inquiry’.