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Five years on from the Manchester Arena attack - what have we learned?

View profile for Danielle Callaway
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Suspension on possession proceedings extended

The whole country was shocked and devastated by the news, on 22nd May 2017, that a suicide bomber had detonated a bomb in the foyer of the MEN Arena as an Ariana Grande concert came to an end, killing 22 innocent people and injuring hundreds of others, including many young people.

Manchester came together to support the families and friends of those who had died or been injured and the actions of Salman Abedi, who clearly targeted children and young people with his attack, were met with horror and disbelief. However, over time, it became apparent that there had also been other failings which could have prevented, or at least reduced, the number of deaths and injuries that night.

In September 2020, over 3 years after the attack, a public inquiry was launched to investigate the deaths of the victims of the attack following suspicions about security failures at the arena. The first report arising from the inquiry, published in June 2021, identified numerous failings including missed opportunities to avoid the attack altogether or to minimise its consequences. The report concluded that Salman Abedi should have been identified as a threat by the security at the arena, particularly when a member of the public reported concerns about Abedi. It was felt that Abedi may well have detonated his device if confronted, but the impact of the detonation is likely to have been much less if that had happened. Numerous opportunities for potential prevention of the attack have been identified and it was felt that the security at the arena as a whole was lacking, which made the arena an attractive target for a terrorist.

The inquiry is also investigating the response of the emergency services to the attack, which was found to have been lacking in many areas, and this second report is expected to be published in July 2022. The inquiry so far has involved evidence from medical experts who have confirmed that some of the victims may have survived if they had been treated more quickly on the night of the attack. 

The wider security service was also criticised as Abedi had returned to the UK from Libya four days before the attack and was not stopped or questioned when travelling to the UK despite MI5 being aware he had extremist views and terrorist connections. A third report is expected later in the year to deal with the failings of the security services.

The families of those killed or injured in the attack are desperately hopeful for a positive outcome to the inquiry in terms of seeing actual changes being put in place to prevent an incident of this severity from happening again. One can only hope that lessons are learned from this terrible atrocity and that measures are put in place to better prevent, or at least reduce the impact of, terrorist attacks in future. It is clear that a significant number of people involved in this incident simply did not know what to do when faced with a situation as terrifying as this and it is therefore important that large venues hosting large gatherings, which come with an increased risk of terrorist activity, start to provide the necessary training to their staff so that they are in no doubt as to the correct preventative action to take in life-threatening situations such as this. The inquiry may have come at a huge cost to the taxpayer, but hopefully it will be worth the cost in terms of the impact it will have on improving security measures and the safety of general public across the country.