`

Delay to inquests distressing for Manchester bombing victims' families, says solicitor

Tributes left after the Manchester bombing last year. PA/Peter Byrne.
Tributes left after the Manchester bombing last year. PA/Peter Byrne.

Families of Manchester bombing victims are distressed by a further delay to the inquests into their deaths, a solicitor has said.

A year on from the attack at Manchester Arena by suicide bomber Salman Abedi, which left 22 dead and hundreds injured, inquests are still on hold as the police investigation continues.

Fiona Borrill, acting senior coroner for Manchester City, today adjourned the proceedings again, this time until October.

She said the Chief Coroner has decided an experienced retired judge should deal with the inquests, but regrettably no one has yet been appointed and the law will have to be changed so he can deal with sensitive evidence, Manchester Coroner's Court heard.

No relatives of victims, including those from Yorkshire, were present for the short, 20-minute hearing, but Elkan Abrahamson, a solicitor representing the family of eight-year-old Saffie Rose Roussos, the youngest victim of the bombing, was present.

He told the hearing, the second pre-inquest hearing to be held, that Saffie's family and those of other victims, "will be distressed by the delay."

Anti-terror detectives have named the bomber's brother, Hashem Abedi, as a suspect and are seeking his extradition from Libya to face charges in the UK.

Mr Abrahamson told the hearing the attempted extradition had now been on-going for six months and since an extradition treaty was signed by Libya and the UK in 2008 no one had ever been extradited.

He added: "One does not want to say too much about the prospect of a successful extradition, the news reports indicate there are problems."

Ms Borrill said: "I'm assured that the police with other government agencies are doing their utmost to expedite this extradition process.

"Clearly at some point when the judge is appointed the position will be reviewed and if it appears extradition is not likely to happen in the foreseeable future then clearly the judge will be minded to start the inquest process."

Ms Borrill said the Chief Coroner had decided a retired judge will hear the inquest, which may take the form of a public inquiry.

If an inquiry is held then the hearing will take the form similar to the Hillsborough and ongoing Grenfell Inquiry.

However, the coroner said there will need to be a change in the Investigatory Powers Act, to allow a judge that has now retired, to be able to see "sensitive material."

She said the retired judge will be nominated by autumn of this year.

The coroner added: "Regrettably, and it is a matter of the utmost regret a judge has not been appointed.

"I fully understand the distress caused to the families by the delay in hearing the inquests.

"Once the judge coroner has been nominated then I would hope the inquest process will begin in earnest."

Ms Borrill adjourned proceedings to October 5 for a further pre-inquest hearing.

Outside court Mr Abrahamson added: "There is something wrong with a process which is supposed to put the families and victims front and centre of the process but ends up marginalising them and making no progress.

"There may be sound legal reasons for some delay but there is no sense of urgency here even a year on.

"It seems inevitable that a High Court Judge will be appointed - this could have been done a year ago.

"Even the Grenfell Inquiry, for all its faults, has at least begun in less than a year. We will be asking the Chief Coroner to explain the delay and to get things moving."

Salman Abedi, 22, from Manchester whose family settled in the UK from Libya, detonated his device at the end of an Ariane Grande concert on May 22 last year.

The victims with links to Yorkshire included:

Sorrell Leczkowski - an Allerton High School pupil, 14, who lived in Adel.

Kelly Brewster - The 32-year-old from Sheffield was killed in the blast, reportedly while shielding her sister and niece.

Courtney Boyle - Leeds Beckett University student, 19, of Gateshead.

Wendy Fawell - Mother, 50, from Otley

Angelika and Marcin Klis - Wife and husband from York