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MI5 to face inquest questions over London Bridge terrorist attack

The Guardian logo The Guardian 11/01/2019 Vikram Dodd Police and crime correspondent
a sign on the side of a building: A memorial to those killed in the London Bridge attack a year after it happened. © AFP/Getty Images A memorial to those killed in the London Bridge attack a year after it happened.

Families who lost loved ones in the London Bridge attacks will demand answers from MI5 as to how the terrorist ringleader Khuram Butt directed the atrocity despite being under investigation by the security services.

A pre-inquest hearing decided on Friday that the security services should face questions and that family lawyers should be given documents from MI5 about their decision-making in the run-up to the June 2017 attacks.

Butt, Rachid Redouane and Youssef Zaghba killed eight people when they ploughed into pedestrians on London Bridge in a van, then, armed with pink ceramic knives bought for £4 each from a Lidl supermarket, ran through Borough market stabbing people.

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The atrocity, which lasted for eight minutes, was only halted when the three attackers, who had taken steroids, tried to kill armed police officers, who shot all three of them dead.

Gareth Patterson QC, barrister for six of the bereaved families, said: “The fact that Khuram Butt was under investigation is very troubling and a significant issue.”

MI5 started investigating Butt in 2015, assessing him as a suspect who may want to carry out an attack in the UK. In 2016 he appeared in a TV documentary with an Isis flag.

At Friday’s hearing at the Old Bailey, the chief coroner of England and Wales, Mark Lucraft QC, said MI5 would be handing over documents. But a public interest immunity hearing may be held, possibly heard in private, if MI5 objects to the handing over of further documents the families believe are needed to explore why Butt was not stopped beforehand.

The terrorists hired the van from a Hertz rental outlet on the day of the attack, having tried and failed to rent a 7.5-tonne lorry to inflict greater death.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 04:  Police at the scene at Southwark Bridge after an attack on London Bridge on June 4, 2017 in London, England. Police have responded to reports of a van hitting pedestrians on London Bridge in central London.  (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images) © 2017 Getty Images LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 04: Police at the scene at Southwark Bridge after an attack on London Bridge on June 4, 2017 in London, England. Police have responded to reports of a van hitting pedestrians on London Bridge in central London. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

Two people were killed in the van attack on London Bridge. Patterson said families could not understand why the bridge had no protective barriers three months after a similar vehicle attack at Westminster Bridge by Khalid Masood.

Patterson set out his key concerns ahead of a full inquest at the Old Bailey starting on 7 May.

He criticised the lack of barriers on the bridge, saying: “The pavements of London Bridge were wide open, despite what happened at Westminster several months earlier.

“No consideration was given to protecting the pavement, but, after London Bridge work, began within a day or two.”

Those who died were Sara Zelenak, 21, Alexandre Pigeard, 26, Christine Archibald, 30, James McMullan, 32, Kirsty Boden, 28, Sebastien Belanger, 36, Ignacio Echeverria, 39 and Xavier Thomas, 45.

The families will also press for better restrictions on rental companies. Three of the terrorist attacks in 2017, at Westminster, London Bridge and Finsbury Park involved vehicles ploughing into civilians. They followed similar deadly attacks overseas in Nice, France and Berlin, Germany.

Patterson said: “They are renting vehicles that can be used as lethal weapons and they have been used in terrorist attack after terrorist attack.”

TOPSHOT - Debris and abandoned cars remain on London Bridge at the scene of an apparent terror attack in central London on June 3, 2017.
Armed police fired shots after reports of stabbings and a van hitting pedestrians on London Bridge on Saturday in an incident reminiscent of a terror attack in March just days ahead of a general election. / AFP PHOTO / Chris J Ratcliffe        (Photo credit should read CHRIS J RATCLIFFE/AFP/Getty Images) TOPSHOT - Debris and abandoned cars remain on London Bridge at the scene of an apparent terror attack in central London on June 3, 2017. Armed police fired shots after reports of stabbings and a van hitting pedestrians on London Bridge on Saturday in an incident reminiscent of a terror attack in March just days ahead of a general election. / AFP PHOTO / Chris J Ratcliffe (Photo credit should read CHRIS J RATCLIFFE/AFP/Getty Images)

The attackers had wrapped water bottles in grey tape to look like suicide belts, which were strung around their upper bodies.

During the hearing, Jonathan Hough QC, counsel to the coroner, said: “We understand the families have concerns about the lack of barriers on the bridge, this attack coming after the Westminster attack.

“We can assure [them] this is a topic which will be pursued.”

Hough said the counter-terrorism police had taken 2,701 statements and seized “vast” amounts of CCTV footage of the attacks and the terrorists’ movements.

Other evidence included body-worn video from police officers and videos from members of the public caught up in the carnage.

Hough said extensive work had been done by forensic experts on the attackers’ vehicle, the knives used and petrol bombs found in the aftermath.

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