Manchester Arena families call for more 'openness and transparency' from police
Families of the 22 people murdered in the Manchester Arena suicide bombing have called for more "openness and transparency" from police over their ongoing investigation.
Loved ones of around a dozen of the victims, numbering about 40 relatives, sat in court listening as the call was made through lawyers representing the families at a pre-inquest hearing into the deaths of the 22 killed in the attack on May 22 2017.
Five people from the North East were among those who died. They were; Chloe Rutherford, 17, and boyfriend Liam Curry, 19, from South Shields; Hartlepool born Jane Tweddle, 51; and Philip Tron, 32, and his partner’s daughter Courtney Boyle, 19, from Gateshead.
The hearing, at Manchester Town Hall before Coroner Sir John Saunders, also heard any inquest may not be held until April 6 2020 - almost three years after the outrage.
Progress on holding the inquests has stalled as they cannot be held before the conclusion of any criminal investigation and possible trial of any suspects.
But the hearing was told the investigation is still "live" and the UK has since November 2017 been trying to extradite the bomber's brother, Hashem Abedi, from custody in Libya where he is being held.
Lawyers for the police and the inquest, warned making information public could lead to the scuppering of any future fair trial by prejudicing a jury.
Pete Weatherby QC, who is representing the families of Alison Howe and the youngest victim, Saffie-Rose Roussos, aged eight, told the hearing: "No-one has a greater interest on the proper course of justice being followed than the families.
"All that I am asking is that 20 months after the outrage of the bombing the families ought to be presented with a greater level of factual detail about the process.
"The most up dates the families have received has in fact come through the press.
"In essence what we seek, through the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and Greater Manchester Police (GMP), is a greater amount of factual transparency."
Mr Weatherby said the information sought included questions about what had been achieved so far, what hurdles remained in returning Hashem Abedi back to the UK, whether he was in detention in Libya and who was he being held by.
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John Cooper QC, representing 10 of the families, added that one of the "fundamental questions" for the inquest would be what information the security services had about the bomber before the attack.
Whether Abedi should have been referred to the Government's de-radicalisation programme Prevent, will also be another live issue the hearing was told.
Jeremy Johnson QC, representing GMP, said the force was "very sympathetic" to the families' request but that progress in the matter was not being driven by the police, and that other authorities in the UK and Libya were also involved.
In opening remarks to the hearing, Sir John Saunders said it was a matter for the CPS and GMP how much information could be made public without risking a fair trial.
He also said he had to balance the needs of involving the families in the inquest and having an open hearing with the issue of sensitive material from the security services being made public.
Only people with a certain level of security clearance can be allowed to view some of the evidence so far compiled and that issue may also affect whether the inquest can be held before a jury.
Paul Greaney QC, counsel to the inquest, gave a list of matters the inquest will investigate, saying there would be a "most vigorous" investigation into whether the attack could have been prevented, the background and radicalisation of Abedi, and the information held and the actions by the police and security services.
The inquest will also cover the build-up and the attack itself, security arrangements at the Arena, the emergency response, the victims and their cause of death, and whether any deaths could have been prevented.
Another pre-inquest hearing will be held later in the year.
At the end of the two-hour hearing, Mr Cooper added that it was a matter of "great concern and distress" that the spot where the shrapnel-packed homemade bomb was detonated was still visible.
Repairs to the entrance to the Arena show which marble tiles have been replaced after impact from the bomb and other fragments, which "clearly delineates where this atrocity happened", he said.
Mr Cooper said it had been raised with the owners of the Arena, SMG Europe Holdings, but added: "We are not sure we are getting anywhere."
The coroner advised the families to make representations collectively to the Arena's owners.