There are certain limitations to my conclusions on each of the three topics that I have investigated in the oral evidence hearings relating to this Volume of my Report.
First, in relation to the radicalisation of SA and HA, I have concluded that their family played a part in the development of their extremist mindset. SA and HA were exposed by their parents to the civil war in Libya at an impressionable age. There were a number of violent extremist groups who were active in Libya at the time. SA’s and HA’s parents, particularly their father, held extremist views. The family circle in Libya included people who, at some time, were involved in terrorism.
The only people who can provide firsthand information about this aspect of the evidence are the family of SA and HA. To date they have not co‑operated with the Inquiry. This has certainly made it more difficult for me to reach definite conclusions on how SA and HA came to be radicalised and what assistance, if any, SA was given by violent extremist groups in Libya to carry out the bombing.
Getting information out of Libya where SA was a regular visitor was very difficult for the authorities in the UK. Their primary focus was identifying fighters returning from Syria. It is possible to say, with the benefit of hindsight, that more attention should have been paid by the Security Service and Counter Terrorism Policing to what was happening in Libya.
My understanding of how the process of radicalisation can occur was assisted by the evidence of Dr Matthew Wilkinson. I hope that his evidence to this Inquiry will be considered carefully by the authorities, as it could enhance their ability to identify signs of radicalisation and the appropriate level of importance to be attached to them.
Second, while Greater Manchester Police’s (GMP’s) investigation of the bombing, Operation Manteline, was, in my view, remarkable in its thoroughness and professionalism, it has proved impossible to conclude on the balance of probabilities that any of those individuals who assisted SA and HA in the purchase of items for their bomb did so knowing that those items were going to be used to make a bomb.
There will be suspicion around their actions, but suspicion is not enough. I have no doubt that GMP will keep the investigation open to see whether evidence capable of meeting the criminal standard of proof is discovered.
Third, could the Attack have been prevented? The closed hearings revealed important additional information, and this included one significant missed opportunity that had not previously been understood. I have put as much about that into the public domain as it is possible to do safely. It remains quite impossible to say whether any different or additional action taken by the authorities could have prevented the Attack. It might have done; it might not have done.
No one should underestimate the very difficult job that the Security Service and Counter Terrorism Policing do. That job has become more difficult with the emergence of lone actor terrorists whose activities are more difficult to track. The Director General of the Security Service has made public the number of plots that have been thwarted, and it is considerable. There have been 37 late‑stage attack plots disrupted since the start of 2017, according to his latest statement.
None of those working for the Security Service or Counter Terrorism Policing whom I have criticised in the Volume 3 open and closed reports intended to assist SA in slipping through the net. Both organisations work hard to try to prevent terrorists carrying out attacks.
Having said all that, if the Security Service or Counter Terrorism Policing make mistakes then these need to be identified and steps taken to put them right. While the Director General of the Security Service has said that he considers it inevitable that terrorists will get through the measures they put in place in their work to protect the public, he did not mean that it was acceptable for that to happen due to mistakes being made.
As this is the last Volume of my Report, I would like to thank all Core Participants for their co‑operation throughout the Inquiry, as well as their preparedness to work very long hours and very hard to ensure that, so far as possible, the timetable was adhered to. I am grateful to those people in organisations who have supplied us with a great deal of information, often at short notice. I have had the assistance of many highly skilled lawyers representing different Core Participants, who have helped me in my attempts to discover the truth and spell out the lessons that need to be learned and what to do to put that learning into practice.
I would also like to thank the bereaved families for their support of the Inquiry process and the encouragement they have given me and my team. Ultimately, for the reasons I have given, it has not been possible to provide comprehensive answers to all their questions publicly. I know this will disappoint some, but I hope that I have made the reasons for that clear.
Finally, I wish publicly to thank my team, that is, Counsel to the Inquiry and Solicitor to the Inquiry. Without their considerable expertise and very hard work, I would not have been able to complete this Inquiry. They have worked tirelessly and used immense skill to try to discover what happened and to help find ways of ensuring that it never happens again. I am very grateful to all of them. I am also grateful to those who have worked behind the scenes to enable the process to run smoothly, despite the difficulties caused by the pandemic.
Even with so much help, conducting this Inquiry has been a considerable responsibility. It has been emotionally draining for everyone but particularly for the bereaved families. I hope that I have reached the correct conclusions on the evidence. More than that, I hope that the Recommendations I have made are seen to be constructive, are accepted and that they will make a difference in the future.