Whether they have walked through the doors of Manchester Magistrates Court each day or watched proceedings virtually from home, bereaved families have spent the past 18 months hoping for answers about why their loved ones died and whether more could have been done to stop the atrocity that was the Arena attack.
22 people died that night, hundreds were injured and over the past 196 days, 291 witnesses and experts have given evidence and one hundred and 72,000 documents have been examined at a public inquiry into what happened.
It has been an honour and a privilege to share the court room with families who have displayed the utmost dignity throughout this process and my heart goes out to each and every one of them.
What they want now is for something positive to come from this inquiry and for ‘real changes to be made.’
Kim Harrison from Slater & Gordon which represents 12 of the families spoke outside court.
Families have listened to so many failings at every level - from the security at the Arena itself which allowed Salman Abedi to slip through the net, to an emergency response which fell far short of what many expected.
But the source of perhaps the deepest frustration has been the security services and whether they could have done more to stop him.
Much of M15’s evidence had to be heard in secret due to concerns about national security and lawyers representing some of the families have accused them of being an ‘unhealthy organisation’ which sought to avoid scrutiny.
Day 196 was a chance for M15 to have their final say.
Did M15 miss opportunities to stop Salman Abedi?
Lawyers representing the families accused M15 of missing ‘multiple opportunities’ to stop Salman Abedi.
We’ve previously heard how in the months prior to the bombing two pieces of intelligence were received by MI5, the significance of which wasn’t fully appreciated at the time.
However the families, the press and the public will never know what that evidence actually was because security concerns meant it was heard in secret.
And while M15 expressed ‘deep and profound’ regret that Salman Abedi had been able to carry out his plot they also urged the inquiry Chairman ‘not to hold back’ if he felt they deserved to be criticised.
Salman Abedi was known to security services. However Cathryn McGahey QC, representing the Home Office told the inquiry they stand by their decision not to re-open an investigation into Salman Abedi and that stopping him at Manchester airport when he flew back from Libya 4 days before the attack was unlikely to have made any difference.
In 2017 they had 20,000 closed subjects of interest and Salman Abedi was one of them but M15 insist the decisions they made were not not due to a lack of resources.
The inquiry also heard how M15 believe there was insufficient evidence to suggest convicted terrorist Abdalraouf Abdallah radicalised Salman Abedi from prison, or that anyone else was involved in the plot. Abdallah denied knowing anything about the plot when he gave evidence to the inquiry.
And the security services say they are determined to do everything they can to protect the public from future atrocities.
What happens now that the evidence has concluded?
The inquiry Chairman Sir John Saunders now has two reports to write.
Volume two which is due in the summer will looks at the emergency response and whether some of the victims could have survived with better medical attention.
Volume three which is due in the Autumn will examine the radicalisation of Salman Abedi and whether the security services could have done more to prevent him carrying out the attack.
The limitations of a public inquiry mean Chairman Sir John Saunders won’t have the power to bring about criminal or civil action against individuals or organisations.
However, he does have the power to stand by the promise he made at the start of these proceedings to be ‘full, fair and fearless’ in ensuring the families get the truth they deserve.