Coroner in the Manchester Arena inquests rules evidence that 'would assist terrorists' should be kept secret

Flowers and tributes left in Manchester after the terror attack Credit: PA

The coroner in the Manchester Arena inquests has ruled some evidence, including materials that relate to whether the security services could have prevented the attack that killed 22 people, should be kept secret.

Sir John Saunders has granted applications by the Home Office and police for public interest immunity (PII) on the grounds of protecting national security, ruling disclosing some materials in public would "assist terrorists".

As a result of his decision, retired High Court judge Sir John said the inquests into the deaths could not continue.

Emergency services at Manchester Arena in May 2017. Credit: PA

The hearings were set to outline what action authorities took to prevent the attack at the end of an Ariana Grande concert on May 22 2017 and whether the steps they took were enough. The adequacy of systems, policies and procedures" was also to be examined.

Part of last week’s pre-inquest review into the attack was held in private to consider the PII applications over material related to the issue of whether the attack by suicide bomber Salman Abedi could have been prevented by the authorities.

Considering the applications from the Home Office and the CTP (Counter Terrorism Police North West), Sir John said the reasons favoured the material being kept secret.

“I have done that because I am satisfied, having heard the justifications for them, that to make public those matters would assist terrorists in carrying out the sort of atrocities committed in Manchester and would make it less likely that the Security Service and CT police would be able to prevent them," he said on Friday.

The inquests were set to investigate the background of Salman Abedi, his radicalisation and what knowledge the security services, police and others had on the bomber prior to the attack.

Floral tributes left in St Ann's Square in Manchester city centre. Credit: PA

He added that, as a consequence, his provisional view was that an “adequate investigation” could not be conducted within the frameworks of the inquests.

It is thought that discussions of whether the inquests will be converted into a public inquiry will be raised at the next scheduled pre-inquests hearing on October 7.

Last week Sir John reassured families attending the hearing at Manchester Town Hall that public interest immunity “will not be used as a device for covering up responsibility” and that he will do his “very best” to ensure that does not happen.

Lawyers for the families of the 22, who have not seen the evidence the authorities want to withhold, stressed the need for as open an inquest process as possible.

22 people died at the end of the Ariana Grande concert Credit: PA

John Cooper QC, representing a number of the families, told the coroner that the people making the application “are the very people who could potentially be severely criticised, and the ramifications of that are significant”.

In Friday’s ruling Sir John explained that Home Secretary Priti Patel had sent a PII certificate in which she stated it was her view that disclosing the material subject to her claim will damage national security.

He added she had made it clear she is aware of the importance of the public interest in disclosure of all relevant matters within the scope of the inquests and that it was also important that justice should be carried out in public.

The 22 victims of the Manchester Arena attacks. Credit: ITV News

He said: “She states that she has carried out a balancing act between these two public interests and she is satisfied that the balance is in favour of non-disclosure.

“While she has set out her conclusions, the Secretary of State accepts that it is ultimately for me to carry out the balancing act.”

The inquests are set to examine the build-up and the attack itself, security at the arena, the emergency response and the victims and their cause of death.

They will also look at whether the attack could have been prevented and the role of the police and security services.