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‘Significant missed opportunity’ to prevent Manchester Arena attack, report finds

Featured image credit: G-13114/CC BY-SA 4.0/Edited for size

The third volume of an inquiry into the 2017 Manchester Arena attack has found that there was a significant missed opportunity by MI5 to take action that might have prevented the disaster.

The report by inquiry chairman Sir John Saunders stated that 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, the report added that there was a “realistic possibility that actionable intelligence” could have been obtained which might have led to actions preventing Salman Abedi carrying out the attack.

The attack, which killed 22 people, took place on May 22, 2017 following an Ariana Grande concert at the arena. The third volume of the inquiry, which has been released today (Thursday), details Saunders’ findings and recommendations on radicalisation and preventability surrounding the attack.

The report states that the reasons for the “significant missed opportunity” included a failure by a Security Service (MI5) officer to act swiftly enough. The inquiry also identified problems with the sharing of information between the Security Service and counter terrorism policing, although it stated that none of these problems were likely to have had any “causative significance”.

Saunders said: “It remains quite impossible to say whether any different or additional action taken by the authorities could have prevented the attack. It might have done; it might not have done.”

Following the publication of the report, MI5 director general Ken McCallum apologised for the agency’s actions before the attack. McCallum said: “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.
“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.”

In a statement reported by Sky News, the families of the victims said: “Today’s report has been deeply painful to read, but also eye-opening. On the issue of the preventability of this attack, inevitably the report provides less information than we would have wanted.

“But it is now very clear that there was a failure to properly assess key intelligence about Salman Abedi; a failure to put it into proper context; and – most catastrophic of all – a delay in acting on it.

“As a result of these failures, at the very least, a real possibility of preventing this attack was lost. This is a devastating conclusion for us. The failures exposed in this report are unacceptable.”

The second volume of the report was released in November and found that one of the victims of the attack could have survived if the response from the emergency services had been quicker.

Saunders said that the performance of the emergency services was “far below the standard it should have been”. Saunders also stated that it “is likely that inadequacies in the emergency response” prevented the survival of John Atkinson, who was aged 28 when he died.

The first volume of the report was published in June 2021 and criticised venue operator SMG and security provider Showsec for the measures put in place before the attack, with Saunders stating that there were missed opportunities to prevent the “devastating impact” of the disaster.

At the time of the attack, the arena was operated by SMG, which has since merged with AEG Facilities to form ASM Global. SMG contracted Showsec, which specialises in crowd control, to provide crowd management and event security for the Ariana Grande concert.