Priti Patel calls for Manchester Arena bombing coroner to keep intelligence material secret from public – as families say they fear a cover-up
- Inquests in bombing victims’ death are scheduled to begin on 2 April next year
- Ahead of hearings, the government have applied to keep some evidence secret
- Victims’ families say the move could allow authorities to swerve scrutiny
Intelligence material relating to the Manchester Arena bombing could be kept secret at victims’ inquests if the government gets its way.
Home Secretary Priti Patel has applied to have some material kept back from the public and victims’ families, meaning some evidence could be considered behind closed doors.
The move has led to fears that authorities could avoid proper scrutiny over the investigation into terrorist Salman Abedi before he killed 22 in May 2017.
Some of the evidence in the inquests into the victims of the Manchester bombings could be kept secret if the government gets its way
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.’
Pete Weatherby QC, representing two further families, said the families had not been given access to the ‘closed schedule’ and added: ‘We don’t even know the categories or the extent – whether it is 10 documents or 10,000.
‘There is a fear from the families that the PII applications are being cast too wide and that the amount of material to be considered in open hearings will be a very small amount in regard to the central issues.’
The application to make some of the evidence secret, using so-called Public Interest Immunity (PII) Certificates, was made to coroner, Sir John Saunders, today.
Salman Abedi killed 22 people, including young children, when he blew himself up at the end of an Ariana Grande concert
In a ‘unique’ move, Ms Patel has indicated that she will allow the coroner to convert the inquest hearing into a public inquiry so that he can consider sensitive material behind closed doors.
It would be the first investigation into a terrorist attack since 9/11 to take place in part behind closed doors.
Sir James Eady, representing the secretary of state, told the hearing the material they sought to exclude was ‘of undoubted significance to the issues you will have to consider and we accept that.’
But he said that case law ‘makes clear that the national security considerations hold the whip hand.’
He said coroner Sir John Saunders, a former High Court Judge, had to show a ‘very, very broad margin of respect’ for the opinion of the Home Secretary.
Home Secretary Priti Patel has made an application to keep some evidence secret to the judge acting as coroner in the inquests
Alan Payne QC for Greater Manchester Police, said that ‘very significant weight’ had been attached to the public interest in the relevant material being disclosed in order to allow a ‘full and through investigation.’
He said officers with ‘particular expertise in counter-terrorism work’ had ‘given the most careful consideration to the extent to which material the subject of the PII claims could be made public.’
But he added: ‘The conclusions which they have reached are emphatic that the information simply cannot be disclosed without jeopardising security.
Mr Cooper, for some of the victim’s families, countered by saying: ‘Where there is an event such as the outrageous bombing at Manchester Arena, the stakes are at their highest.
‘When you consider arguments before you in closed session you should bear in mind the very people seeking to restrict this material being put in the public domain and the domain of the bereaved families are the very people who could potentially be severely criticised, and the ramifications of that are significant.
‘The application to restrict material from the public domain is emanating from the very group of people or organisations who are potentially in the firing line as far as these hearings are concerned.’
Manchester residents grieve in the weeks after the horrific attack in May 2017
He said the certificates should only be granted if there was an ‘absolutely exceptional reason’ and should not be excluded because it caused ‘humiliation’ or was ’embarrassing’.
He said the approach of GMP was ‘simply not good enough for those that we represent’ adding: ‘They are going to have to do far better than that to ensure open justice is being tendered in this case.’
The coroner said there was an ‘argument for the families learning what has happened which will not happen with a public inquiry.’
But he added: ‘If I am carrying out inquiries on the families’ behalf they will have to take my word I’m afraid that it is being done thoroughly.’
Sir John Saunders will make his ruling at a later date.
The 22 victims of the Manchester Arena bombing in May 2017
Elaine McIver and Saffie Rose Roussos
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
Nell Jones and Olivia Campbell-Hardy
Megan Hurley and Georgina Callander
Chloe Rutherford and Liam Curry
Courtney Boyle and Philip Tron
Kelly Brewster and Angelika Klis
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.
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.
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.
John Atkinson and Martyn Hett
Marcin Klis and Michelle Kiss
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 , 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.
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 Taylor , 50: 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
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