Manchester Arena bombing: Minute's silence held in victims' memories at pre-inquest review

A minute's silence has been held at the start of a hearing ahead of the inquests into the deaths of the Manchester Arena bombing victims.
Twenty-two people died in the Manchester Arena bombing. Picture: PA.Twenty-two people died in the Manchester Arena bombing. Picture: PA.
Twenty-two people died in the Manchester Arena bombing. Picture: PA.

The names of each of the 22 victims were read out before Coroner Sir John Saunders, as lawyers and around 20 family members of the victims stood in silence at Manchester Town Hall.

One family member wiped away tears with a tissue and was hugged by a relative as stillness descended on the hearing.

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They were present for the start of a further pre-inquest review hearing following the appointment in August of Sir John Saunders, one of England's most senior judges, who will preside over the inquests.

Salman Abedi, 22, from Manchester, whose family settled in the UK from Libya, detonated his device at the end of an Ariana Grande concert on May 22 last year as the concert-goers, many of them youngsters, streamed out of the venue into the arms of waiting parents.

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Waiting outside was suicide bomber Salman Abedi, who had a device in his backpack.

His attack left 22 dead and hundreds injured.

Paul Greaney QC, counsel to the inquest who read out the names, said of the attacker: "He killed 22 people and many more were severely injured.

"This was, in a true sense of the word, an atrocity."

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The inquests have still to be held due to the ongoing police investigation and attempts to extradite the brother of the suicide bomber, Hashem Abedi, a suspect over the murders, from Libya.

The hearing is expected to deal with administrative matters and questions of how far the inquests can progress before any criminal trial is held.

In opening remarks at the start of the hearing, Sir John said: "It was an appalling and needless waste of life. It cost the greatest loss of life of any bomb attack in the UK since the 7/7 attack in London in 2005.

"It affected not only the families of people who died, but all the people of Manchester and the rest of the country."

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He said the purpose of the inquest included who, when, where and how the 22 died, but while some of the answers were clear, others will require "thorough and detailed examination of the evidence" ensuring the "full facts are brought to light."

He said the inquests will cover "difficult and upsetting evidence" and counselling services will be available for the families involved.

Sir John said he had discussed the inquests with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and it had been agreed that they could seek information to do with the deaths of the 22 victims.

But he suggested it could be up to a year before witnesses give evidence in court.

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He also warned the media, with around 20 members of the press in the public gallery listening to the hearing, of the danger of reporting possibly prejudicing either a future criminal trial or an inquest jury.

The inquests heard the extradition proceedings against Hashem Abedi - who faces charges of murder, attempted murder and conspiracy to cause an explosion - remain "in progress" as the Libyan authorities consider the request from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

Mr Greaney submitted that the oral hearings should not commence until after any criminal proceedings are complete.

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He said the scope of the inquests may cover whether the attack could have been prevented by the authorities, the build-up to the bombing, the incident itself, the response of the emergency services and security arrangements within and outside Manchester Arena.

John Cooper QC, representing families of 10 victims, suggested that the private security arrangements of Grande on the night could also be examined.

The issue of whether the inquests will be held before a jury will also be considered in due course.

An update of the ongoing and "very full and thorough" murder investigation was given by Jeremy Johnson QC, representing Greater Manchester Police.

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He said: "It is far from concluded and evidence is still being obtained and considered by the police and the CPS."

Mr Johnson said further details could not be given but on a broad scale the inquiry had so far obtained 2,687 witness statements and 14,555 exhibits, including a large number of telephones.

He confirmed that 23 people had been arrested as part of the investigation consisting of 105 staff.

The inquests also heard an application for Interested Persons status had been received from Salford University, where Salman Abedi was said to be a second year business studies management student at the time of the bombing.

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The university has submitted the hearings may find it helpful to receive information about his time studying there.

Mr Cooper also raised the issue of security at the forthcoming oral hearings as he said there was "reason to believe that threats have been made".

Mr Greaney said he had received assurances that the matter was being considered at the "highest level".

The inquests were adjourned until the next pre-inquest review on February 28 next year, also at Manchester Town Hall.

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No date has been set for the next preliminary hearing into the inquest of Salman Abedi.