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September 29th 2020

Public Inquiry

Legal team raises concerns over ‘obsessively secretive’ approach to security services evidence at Manchester Arena Inquiry

Terry Wilcox

Terry Wilcox

Solicitor, Civil Liberties

Legal team raises concerns over ‘obsessively secretive’ approach to security services evidence at Manchester Arena Inquiry

A legal team representing the families of seven people killed in the Manchester Arena bombing has expressed ‘grave misgivings’ over ‘obsessive secrecy’ surrounding the security services section of evidence at the ongoing Public Inquiry.

A legal team representing the families of seven people killed in the Manchester Arena bombing has expressed ‘grave misgivings’ over ‘obsessive secrecy’ surrounding the security services section of evidence at the ongoing Public Inquiry.

Pete Weatherby QC, who is instructed by Hudgell Solicitors and is acting on behalf of the families of Sorrell Leczkowski, 14, and Philip Tron, 32, has questioned the decision to allow large amounts of evidence relating to national security to be heard behind closed doors.

He said that so far, ‘through full disclosure’, the inquiry had laid the foundations for ‘a full and proper investigation of Arena security, what happened on the night and the emergency response’.

However, he outlined concerns over ‘secrecy’ with regards to some key evidence, saying it threatened families ‘right to effectively participate in that most important area of evidence and scrutiny.’

“The topic regarding whether the bombing could and should have been prevented is to be heard, we are told, largely in closed session. A closed hearing will exclude the families, their lawyers, the media and the public,” he said.

“The families have no problem understanding that there may well be aspects of the security service evidence which must be treated carefully. The families have no problem understanding that national security should not be compromised. They have no problem understanding that the security services have a difficult job.

“However, the current position essentially removes the whole of a central issue from public scrutiny and their right to effectively participate in that most important area of evidence and scrutiny.”

Failure to recognise association between bomber and terrorist ‘a real missed opportunity’

Mr Weatherby QC highlighted the role convicted terrorist Abdalraouf Abdallah played in radicalising bomber Salman Abedi, and questioned why his name had been redacted on some documents before the inquiry.

He said that despite being arrested and remanded in 2015 and convicted and jailed in 2016, he remained in regular contact with Abedi, who visited him in Belmarsh prison in 2015 and Altcourse prison in 2017.

The inquiry heard Abdallah’s name had been redacted from a witness statement relating to Abedi visiting him in Belmarsh prison in 2015, a visit Mr Weatherby said should have been subject to ‘the most basic of monitoring’, but appeared not to have happened.

He added: “Those redactions we understand are requested by the security services. Why did Abdalraouf Abdallah’s name need to be redacted?  He was a convicted prisoner. It doesn’t seem to us that there was any legitimate privacy right as regards him, and no national security reason to redact his association with the Abedis. So, why the secrecy?

“The only people or organisations protected by Abdalraouf Abdallah’s anonymity, his redaction from reports and the witness statement, are it seems, the security services.

“In summary, we do not understand the justification for why the security services sought and achieved redaction of reference to Abdalraouf Abdallah in reports and why he was referred to anonymously in the witness statement to this Inquiry, or indeed why the Inquiry has allowed this.

“The failure to recognise the association between Salman Abedi and Abdalraouf Abdallah was a real missed opportunity. The redaction of Abdalraouf Abdallah’s name from reports and the witness statement is an indication of a lack of transparency by the security services and frankly it calls for a rethink by this Inquiry. “

‘Justice requires light to be shone in darkest corners’

Mr Weatherby QC said the families of victims remain confident in the Inquiry, but warned that differential treatment of security services evidence could lead to scepticism.

“At no point have the families lost sight of the fact that the bomber and his associates committed this outrage.  At every stage, in common with others they recognise the heroic efforts of emergency service workers and passers-by in rushing to the aid of the injured and dying.

“The question of closed evidence is not one of trust, either of the security services or this Inquiry.  Justice requires that light is shone into the darkest corners.  We don’t know what the undisclosed material contains or how much of it there is.

“However, we do know that the security services have redacted matters such as the identity of Abdalraouf Abdallah for reasons which are entirely unclear to us.

“We do know that they have been permitted to choose a corporate witness and then claim anonymity for him.

“As I have stated, the confidence of the families in the Inquiry is high, precisely because there has been effective engagement through the Pen Portraits and because the Inquiry has demonstrably indicated it will leave no stone unturned by requiring full disclosure and by requesting detailed opening statements from the public authority and corporate CPs.

“If the security services are seen to be treated in a different way to others then confidence will inevitably wane, and findings based on evidence heard behind closed doors will be met with scepticism.”

Pete Weatherby QC is instructed by Hudgell Solicitors’ team of Terry Wilcox and Vicky Richardson.

The inquiry continues

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