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Manchester Arena inquiry: ‘Highly relevant’ pieces of intelligence received by MI5 not shared with police before attack

Two “highly relevant” pieces of intelligence received by MI5 in the months before the Manchester Arena attack were not shared with their partners in counter-terrorism police, the inquiry has heard.

On two separate occasions in the months before the attack, intelligence was received by MI5 of which the significance was “not fully appreciated at the time.”

It was assessed at the time to relate to “possible non-nefarious activity” or to “criminality” on the part of Salman Abedi, but, in retrospect, was “highly relevant to the planned attack”.

However, the inquiry was told that the information was not shared or analysed by counter-terrorism police.

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MI5 also failed to share details that the bomber had been in touch with a subject of interest who had a “previous affiliation with an extremist group in Libya.”

Labelled “Subject of Interest C” for the inquiry, Abedi was in touch with the individual in 2015, two years before the bombing, the inquiry heard.

Sir John Saunders, the inquiry chairman, has ruled that there is “centrally important material” relevant to the question of whether MI5 could have prevented the attacks that cannot be revealed to the public.

As a result, for the first time in an inquest or inquiry since 9/11, some hearings will take place behind closed doors.

The details emerged after the head of Counter-Terrorism Policing in Manchester spoke of his regret at failing to stop the attack on the arena.

Detective Chief Superintendent Dominic Scally was head of intelligence for the North West Counter-Terrorism Unit at the time of the bombing and now heads up Counter-Terrorism Policing North West (CTPNW).

As he began two days of giving evidence to the inquiry, Mr Scally offered his “deepest sympathies and respect for the families of those who died and everyone affected” by the bombing.

He added: “On behalf of my colleagues in the North West Counter-Terrorism Unit, I wanted to say that we work hard every day to protect our communities from terrorism.

“I know it is a source of great regret that we failed to prevent this attack.”

Nick de la Poer QC, for the inquiry, said he would not “press you on answers or otherwise challenge” his answers because they would hold further secret sessions over the next three weeks.

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After the attack, the parliamentary intelligence and security committee (ISC) reported “cultural differences” and incompatible IT systems between the organisations and noted “an imbalance in the relationship between MI5 and police (perceived or otherwise)”.

But, asked if he recognised the description, Mr Scally said: “That is not my experience.”

The inquiry heard that the family of the bomber were stopped by police on a number of occasions as they travelled in and out of the country.

Salman Abedi’s father, Ramadan, was subject to a number of “port stops” in 2011, when the Western-backed Libyan revolution was in full swing.

On “at least one occasion” Salman Abedi was with him, the inquiry was told.

Mr Scally was asked if the police were aware of alleged links between Ramadan Abedi, and the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) but said: “Our knowledge of Ramadan is not something I can discuss here.”

In September 2015, Ismail Abedi, the bomber’s older brother, was stopped as he returned from his honeymoon and extremist material found on his devices.

He suggested it should have persuaded the counter-terrorism unit to refer Salman Abedi, who had been the subject of an investigation the year before, to the Prevent de-radicalisation programme.

Mr Scally said he could not talk about what “sits outside” the port stop but added: “You have adults with extremely unpleasant material, disgusting material on their phones.”

But he said they would only be referred to Prevent if there was a “vulnerability” that could be addressed.

“Tens of thousands hold extremist views, it is a matter for us where is the thresholds for saying that this individual is at risk of being drawn into terrorism,” he said.

The inquiry continues.

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