Manchester Arena families must wait another year before inquests begin

Families of the 22 people murdered at the Manchester Arena suicide bombing will have to wait at least another year before inquests into the deaths of their loved ones are held.

Coroner Sir John Saunders said it will be another 12 months before the inquests are held and the “answers” the families want are given.

The High Court judge spoke at a pre-inquest review hearing at Manchester Town Hall, attended by around 20 family members of the victims.

A minute’s silence was held at the start of the 90-minute hearing, which dealt mainly with administrative matters.

The names of the 22 victims were read out as Sir John, the two dozen lawyers representing the families and other parties stood in silence, side by side with relatives of victims, to remember the dead.

One family member wiped away tears and was hugged by another attendee, as stillness descended on the hearing.

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

His attack left 22 dead and hundreds injured.

Progress on holding the inquests has been held up 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 is still trying to extradite the bomber’s brother, Hashem Abedi, from custody in Libya where he is being held.

Jeremy Johnson QC, representing Greater Manchester Police (GMP), said detectives were still carrying out a “very full and thorough murder investigation”.

He added: “It is far from concluded and evidence is still being obtained and considered by the police and 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.

However Anna Morris, representing the family of the youngest victim Saffie-Rose Roussos, aged eight, told the hearing despite the scale of the ongoing police investigation there was still no “timetable” for the extradition of Hashem Abedi.

She said: “We very much urge meaningful coronial progress given we are 18 months after the tragedy on the evening of May 22 2017.”

Paul Greaney QC, counsel to the inquests, submitted that the oral hearings should not commence until after any criminal proceedings are complete.

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 the Manchester Arena.

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

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”.

In opening remarks, Sir John said: “It was an appalling and needless waste of life.

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

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

No date has been yet for the next preliminary hearing into Salman Abedi’s inquest.

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