Families of the eight individuals killed in the June 2017 London Bridge terrorist attack, in which Islamic extremists ran over pedestrians then went on a stabbing rampage, have asked a judge to find "unreasonable failures" by MI5 and police meant chances to stop the atrocity were missed.
"The narrative conclusions in each case should refer to the possibility the attack could have been prevented had it not been for unreasonable failures in the investigation into [attack ringleader] Khuram Butt," the families stated via their barrister Gareth Patterson QC.
They claim investigators missed preparations for the plot over several month, dating back to 7th March 2017, and the purchase of an "operational" telephone around 15th - 17th March 2017, meaning there was "a period of months during which an attack could’ve been detected".
"There is a ‘substantial chance’ a higher level of monitoring would’ve detected such planning. It is important the paucity of actual evidence of attack planning, in the context of a failure to investigate, is not used to suggest there was no evidence that might have been uncovered through proportionate investigative steps," they concluded.
Previous hearings have revealed MI5 had been investigating Butt for around two years at the time of the incident with support of the Metropolitan Police’s counter-terrorism command.
On 12th June, a senior MI5 officer - known as 'L' - told the inquest intelligence operatives had long-suspected Butt wanted to commit a terror attack, and had compiled video evidence indicating fellow attacker Rachid Redouane visited Butt’s home in March 2017, and knew of a barbecue Butt held in May at which Redouane was present and a trip the two made together out of London.
The operative also said Butt’s teaching at Ad-Deen school - linked to an alleged extremist - was a safeguarding issue for the police not MI5, and in any event neither had determined which school Butt taught at, despite it being less than a mile from his home and him travelling there most days. A Google search conducted by MI5 suggested he worked elsewhere - despite third attacker Youssef Zaghba teaching at the school too.
Jonathan Hough QC, barrister for the bereaved families noted the numerous links between the attackers that could’ve enabled MI5 to identify them in advance, which included being in regular phone contact, meeting repeatedly at a gym, swimming together on Sundays and Redouane and Zaghba occasionally using Butt’s car.
L told the inquest MI5 assessed Butt posed a "medium risk" of staging an attack independently, but had weak capability and posed no risk of engaging in spontaneous violent extremism - they also denied any information was withheld from counter-terrorism police, and claimed a call to the UK’s official anti-terrorism hotline in September 2015 from Butt’s brother-in-law, warning of increasing extremist behaviour, hadn’t been passed to MI5, and even if the agency had received the intel it wouldn’t have made any difference to MI5’s assessment.
Now, in response to the families’ claims, government lawyers acting for the UK’s domestic spying agency have said the evidence before the coroner "does not reveal an arguable, or prima facie, case there was a failure on the part of MI5 to take reasonable steps to avoid a real and immediate threat to the lives of the victims of the attack".
"This was an attack planned in secret, by the three attackers alone. The exhaustive post-attack investigation has not revealed a single piece of intelligence which, had it been identified at the time, would’ve alerted MI5 to an imminent attack. The attackers appear to have kept their plan secret from even those closest to them," they explained.
Official inquiries have cleared both police and MI5 of wrongdoing - but beyond alleged intelligence failures, the families suggest had authorities erected protective barriers on London Bridge following a vehicle attack on Westminster Bridge three months earlier which claimed the lives of several pedestrians, some of the victims killed and maimed by the van may still be alive today.
The chief coroner will sum up and deliver his findings 28th June.