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The Manchester Arena Inquiry has now concluded. The closure notice from the Inquiry Chairman is available here.

Volume Three: Radicalisation and Preventability
Volume Three: Radicalisation and Preventability (20pt version)


Volume 3 is the final Volume of my Report. It comprises this document, which I will refer to as Volume 3 (open), along with Volume 3 (closed), which contains material that would be damaging to national security if it were to become public. As a consequence, Volume 3 (closed) will have a limited readership. Volume 3 (closed) is split into two: Volume 3‑I (closed) and Volume 3‑II (closed). Volume 3‑II, which will deal only with recommendations, will be released separately and subsequently to the same limited readership.

Across Volume 3 as a whole I deal with three different topics: the radicalisation of SA; the planning and preparation for the Attack; and preventability, that is, could the Attack have been prevented?

In dealing with those issues, I heard from experts and representatives of schools and colleges attended by SA in open evidence hearings. I heard evidence from some of SA’s and HA’s friends and associates who may have discussed their ideology with them, together with evidence from the police about the planning and preparation for the Attack, and the possible knowing involvement of others in that criminal process.

I heard from members of the Security Service and Counter Terrorism Policing, partly in open evidence hearings but mainly in a closed evidence hearing during November 2021. The purpose of this evidence was to consider the important question of whether the Attack could have been prevented.

I held a closed evidence hearing because I concluded that hearing in public the evidence it was necessary to hear, in order to have an Article 2 compliant Inquiry, would damage national security and the ability of the Security Service to prevent attacks. The evidence I heard in the closed hearing required detailed analysis. I have carried out that analysis in Volume 3 (closed).

I believe there was broad recognition of the need to have a closed evidence hearing, but I was urged by the bereaved families to provide a gist of as much of the evidence as I could at the end of the process. I have done that.

In some cases, and this is one of them, it is not sufficient simply to rely on internal reviews conducted by the Security Service and Counter Terrorism Policing, with the only evidence of those reviews and their conclusions coming from corporate representatives. That is so even though the internal review in this case was observed and verified by David Anderson QC (now Lord Anderson KC) in his December 2017 report.1 He did not see or hear everything that I did.

In Volume 3‑I (closed), I conduct an analysis of the evidence and make findings of fact. At the conclusion of it, I identify areas in which I seek assistance from the Security Service and Counter Terrorism Policing to formulate recommendations aimed at making improvements. While the internal reviews of all the 2017 attacks, as conducted by the Security Service and Counter Terrorism Policing, made a large number of recommendations, I have identified other areas where improvements can and should be made.

Volume 3‑I (closed) will be disseminated to those cleared to read it at the same time as Volume 3 (open) is laid before Parliament. Once the Security Service and Counter Terrorism Policing have had an opportunity to consider Volume 3‑I (closed) and I have sought their views, I will be making my own recommendations in Volume 3‑II (closed). While I will consider any representations as to the practicalities of any recommendations during that process, I make clear that the final decisions will be mine, and the recommendations I make will be mine alone.

In the course of my open evidence hearings on the issues relating to Volume 3, and following the closed evidence hearing, a gist of some of the closed evidence was made public.2 I have sought to extract as much further material from the closed evidence as I can in Volume 3 (open). This is set out in Part 24 in this Volume of my Report.

It is important that any claim that disclosure will harm national security should be subject to close scrutiny. Otherwise, the claim may be thought of as being used as a cloak to cover up mistakes. The highest court in the land, the Supreme Court, has made it clear that due deference must be given to the expertise of the Security Service in assessing what disclosure may affect national security. In accordance with that requirement, I have given due deference to its expertise, but equally the courts and inquiries must not simply ‘salute the flag’3 just because the Security Service opposes disclosure on the grounds of national security. My role was to exercise my independent judgment. I have done that.

In deciding what material should be made public, I have had to have in mind the very important principle of open justice. In the circumstances of this Inquiry, that principle is paramount, unless it can be demonstrated that disclosure of particular evidence will affect national security.

One of the aims of this Inquiry has been to provide answers about what happened to the families of those who died and those who suffered injury in the Attack, and to tell them if more could have been done to prevent the Attack. The need for justice to be done in public was a high priority for me, as the bereaved families are entitled to know all of the evidence, except in so far as it would damage national security to disclose it publicly.

I have, therefore, taken the view that it is for the Security Service to satisfy me that, in the interests of national security, I should not publicly report parts of the evidence that have been heard in closed hearings during the Inquiry process. I believe that, with proper explanation, I am quite capable of deciding for myself how and why national security may be affected. I am not prepared merely to rubber‑stamp assertions made on behalf of the Security Service and Counter Terrorism Policing. I have had to make similar assessments on many occasions both in my judicial career as a High Court Judge, including a period in charge of the terrorism list, and as a Commissioner with the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office.

I am quite satisfied that having a closed evidence hearing and issuing Volume 3 (closed) as well as Volume 3 (open) was and is justified and necessary. This process enabled me to carry out a detailed inquiry into what the Security Service and Counter Terrorism Policing knew before the Attack, which would not have been possible in an open evidence hearing. If I had not done so, a number of important facts that I have been able to reveal would not have come to light. Before the closed evidence hearings I heard submissions on behalf of the bereaved families as to topics that they wished me to explore with the Security Service and Counter Terrorism Policing.

With the assistance of Counsel to the Inquiry, I explored these topics and others during the closed hearings. I have done my best to carry out the “rigorous investigation” that I undertook to conduct.4

The process that has been used to inquire into preventability, while necessary, has been difficult for many of those involved, including me. Having spent most of my working life in criminal courts, I know only too well the immense value of justice being seen to be done. The fact that not all of the Inquiry’s hearings have been in public has been particularly difficult for the bereaved families, many of whom have attended every public hearing either in person or remotely.

I am sorry that I have not been able to reveal in my open Report everything I have discovered. I know that what I have revealed, while increasing public knowledge, will raise other questions that I have not been able to answer in Volume 3 (open). I have only permitted my findings to remain undisclosed to the public when I have been persuaded that to say more would damage national security. Throughout the Inquiry I have had in mind the importance of preventing terrorist attacks, and nothing must be done by this Inquiry to undermine that.

The wish to understand is a vital part of all our humanity and it is something that I have also borne in mind at all times. I am grateful for the dignity that the bereaved families have demonstrated throughout the Inquiry. I hope that what I have been able to say publicly adds to their understanding of the circumstances in which their loved ones died.

Volume 3 (open) is laid out as follows:

  • Part 22 considers the radicalisation of SA. It looks at the key influences within his family and associates and at the educational and religious institutions with which he engaged.

  • Part 23 deals with the planning and preparation for the Attack. This includes the acquisition, storage and transport of materials used in the Improvised Explosive Device. This Part also considers the movements of SA between 18th and 22nd May 2017, following his return from Libya, and examines the period following the Attack.
  • Part 24 concerns the question of whether the Attack could have been prevented. It provides a gist of the Volume 3‑I (closed) report.

  • Part 25 sets out my conclusions and recommendations. I have made recommendations in a number of areas, with the aim of preventing future attacks and improving the civil and criminal processes that can be used during the course of a public inquiry.