MI5 'profoundly sorry' security service did not prevent Manchester Arena attack

  • In a break with their usual code of silence, Director General of MI5 Ken McCallum issued an apology, describing his regret that intelligence wasn't obtained and acted upon

The boss of MI5 says he is "profoundly sorry" the Security Service did not prevent the Manchester Arena terror attack.

Director general Ken McCallum apologised after the public inquiry into the May 2017 atrocity revealed it could have been stopped if intelligence received months before had been acted on more swiftly.

Two pieces of information about suicide bomber Salman Abedi were assessed at the time by the Security Service to not relate to terrorism.

But inquiry chairman Sir John Saunders said – having heard from MI5 witnesses at the hearings into the bombing, which killed 22 people and injured hundreds – that he considered that did not present an "accurate picture".

The officer admitted they considered a possible pressing national security concern on one of the pieces of intelligence but did not discuss it with colleagues straight away and did not write up a report on the same day.

In his 207-page report, Sir John said: "The delay in providing the report led to the missing of an opportunity to take a potentially important investigative action.

"Based on everything the Security Service knew or should have known, I am satisfied that such an investigative action would have been a proportionate and justified step to take.

"This should have happened."

Salman Abedi at Manchester Victoria on the night of the attack Credit: Greater Manchester Police

He said that if the intelligence had been followed up immediately it could have led to Abedi, 22, being followed to the parked Nissan Micra where he stored the explosive and later moved it to a rented city centre flat to assemble.

The chairman added that Abedi also could have been stopped at Manchester Airport on his return from Libya four days before the attack.

In response to Sir John’s findings, Mr 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.

"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."

The head of Counter Terrorism Policing pledged to act quickly on the report's findings

Head of Counter Terrorism Policing, Matt Jukes, promised to "act quickly" on the Manchester Arena inquiry findings and insisted officers will remain "relentless in our work to keep the public safe".

In a statement he said: "I am sorry that, despite our determined partnership (with MI5), we did not stop the loss of life, nor the injury and trauma that happened close to here, almost six years ago.

"I want those who have lost loved ones to know that their loss has steeled us to ensure our counter-terrorism partnerships are stronger, faster and more effective.

"And I pledge that alongside MI5 that we will act quickly to apply the findings published today and that we remain relentless in our work to keep the public safe.”

What did MI5 know, when? Watch this full report from ITV Granada Reports Political Correspondent Lise McNally

Stephen Watson, Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, said: "I thank the chairman, Sir John Saunders, for the final volume of a highly comprehensive inquiry which has already done much to shape and deliver improvements into how Greater Manchester Police prepare for and respond to major incidents.

"We are fully resolved to never repeat the failings previously identified and will ensure that the final volume is fully reviewed and considered.

"We will do this with a continued fierce determination to ensure that the loss and hurt experienced by those still suffering will not be in vain."

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