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Manchester Arena inquiry chief calls for progress on recommendations

AO Arena hosts a Netball Super League match between Manchester Thunder and Leeds Rhinos on May 7, 2023

Featured image credit: Rob Ridley

Sir John Saunders, chair of the independent public inquiry into the 2017 Manchester Arena attack, has said progress has been slow on some of the recommendations made, adding that monitoring of their implementation is “essential”.

Saunders, having acted as the Coroner responsible for conducting the Manchester Arena Inquests, was also appointed to chair the inquiry, which commenced in September 2020. With proceedings now winding down, Saunders has published remarks outlining outstanding matters and some general observations at the conclusion of the inquiry.

The attack, which killed 22 people, took place on May 22, 2017 following an Ariana Grande concert at the then Manchester Arena, now known as AO Arena. Evidence into the circumstances leading up to and surrounding the attack was heard in Manchester between September 7, 2020 and February 15, 2022, calling on 291 witnesses and considering 172,000 pages of documents.

This led to three reports being released – in June 2021, November 2022 and March of this year. This latter report found that there was a significant missed opportunity by MI5 to take action that might have prevented the atrocity.

The report by Saunders stated that it was 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, it 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.

In the document issued yesterday (Tuesday), Saunders said that the issue of monitoring the recommendations on his closed volume three report remains outstanding. He continued: “I consider monitoring of those recommendations is essential.

“The Security Service and Counter-Terrorism Policing, having considered my closed report, have accepted that mistakes were made. They have each entered into a dialogue with me and my team about suitable recommendations which they accept can be made to work.

“I have made those recommendations and they have been agreed by the Security Service and Counter-Terrorism Policing. Both organisations have left me in no doubt of their intention to implement them.

“I believe that they will, but it is important that the families and the public generally receive a public assurance from a monitoring body that the recommendations are being, or have been, implemented. We have already seen that it is very easy for new priorities to push the implementation of recommendations from inquiries down the ‘to do’ list.”

Saunders highlighted two particular areas of concern for large venues that have failed to make the necessary progress – that of provision of emergency care and the operation of CCTV. He said: “Arising out of the recent monitoring hearings there are some areas where it seems that progress has been slow, or recommendations have been rejected.

“The important area of ensuring that there is proper provision of medical care at large arenas does not seem to have got any further forward despite the concerns and representations of the Care Quality Commission. I do not regard this as satisfactory and recommend that urgent action is taken to rectify a situation that we were told was causing loss of life.

“Also the recommendation that all CCTV operators should be trained and licensed by the SIA (Security Industry Authority) whether they are provided by outside contractors, who are already required to be licensed, or are employed in-house who are not, has not been accepted by the Government. That recommendation was supported by the SIA.

“The Government has not implemented it because it is said to be ‘over-regulation’. It seems that decision has been made without any consultation with the industry. It is difficult to see why there should be this distinction in training requirements and I would ask the Government to think again.”