MI5 and anti-terror police will not be allowed to use the excuse of national security to cover up intelligence failings in advance of the Manchester Arena terror attack, a public inquiry has heard.
The inquiry into the May 2017 attack, which claimed 22 lives, will hear whether the security services or anti-terror police could have stopped the bombing.
Inquiry chairman Sir John Saunders said some of the evidence will be heard in closed session as it could compromise national security by revealing security services’ operations and methods, or assist terrorists in evading detection or help carry out similar atrocities.
Several witnesses will give evidence anonymously in closed sessions, with only limited, pre-vetted information made public afterwards.
The witnesses include counter-terror police officers, a witness for MI5 and an expert witness, witness Z – a former MI5 officer who will give their opinion on the performance of the security services.
John Cooper QC, representing a number of families, said he did not disagree with the position of closed hearings but he called for ‘maximum disclosure’ when possible to ensure national security is not used as a blanket measure to restrict public knowledge of mistakes.
He added: ‘National security and covering up embarrassments… you are very aware of that potentially here.
‘It is something some of us have seen in other spheres, in inquests relating to deaths in the military, that sometimes, something that’s called national security, we argue against redaction, we succeed, and actually see the redaction, and it’s nothing more than potentially simply an embarrassing piece of material.’
Sir John told the hearing: ‘Mr Cooper, I hope as further reassurance to the families, you and I over the last two weeks have heard some of the most heart-rending evidence I have ever heard in any sort of tribunal.
‘And we have all been affected deeply by it, and the idea I would allow the security service to cover up mistakes in order to avoid embarrassment is something, I can assure you, I would not have done even if I hadn’t heard the heart-rending evidence, but I’m even more determined.
‘Equally, I would also seek to do everything I could to not disclose things that would result in other people going through the sort of torment that the families in this case have gone through.’
Sir John said he must balance the needs of the families to find out exactly how the atrocity took place and the possibility of terrorists using that information to commit further attacks.
‘So, that’s the balance on both sides, and I can well understand their desire to know absolutely everything they can know, and any mistake that’s been made.
Salman Abedi, 22, was known to the security services from July 2014 onwards, three years before the arena attack on May 22, 2017.
He had also been made a ‘subject of interest’ at one point and was in contact and made prison visits to jailed terrorist Abdulraouf Abdallah, with the two discussing ‘martyrdom’ operations.
Hearings on preventability are due to start next month.
The inquiry was adjourned until Monday next week.