The Manchester Arena inquiry's silent witness

'I don’t want to be seen because obviously the neighbours don’t know who I am'

Dear Millers — welcome to this week’s Mill briefing. We hope you had a great weekend.

In case you missed it, for our weekend read we sat down with the main contenders going head to head with Andy Burnham in next month’s mayoral election. You can read that piece here. And don’t forget: The election is on May 6th, which is next Thursday.

The big story: Call me Ismail

Top line: You can expect to hear a lot more about Ismail Abedi this year — the older brother of the Manchester Arena bomber who will be compelled to appear before the public inquiry after turning down multiple requests to give evidence voluntarily. The inquiry wants to ask Ismail about his brothers Salman, who carried out the bombing, and Hashem, who was jailed for 55 years after being extradited from Libya.

This weekend, the Sunday Times reported finding Ismail living under an alias in “a plush new home in an upmarket suburb of Manchester.” When approached by a reporter from the paper, he said: “I don’t want to be seen because obviously the neighbours don’t know who I am or what’s going on.”

What is going on? Ishmale has apologised for what his brothers did, and said last year that he had “no idea they had taken this path”. But he has chosen not to give evidence to the public inquiry. He has been interviewed more than 20 times by the police but has never been charged.

The latest: In an investigation published yesterday, David Collins, Northern Editor for the Sunday Times (and a longtime Miller), revealed stunning new details about Ishmale’s contacts with the security services before the bombing. He writes:

The security services had evidence of extremist material on the Facebook account of Ishmale Abedi, the older brother of the Manchester Arena bomber, two years before the attack in which 22 people were murdered.

It can be revealed today that when the authorities checked the account, they found a picture of a Jordanian air force pilot whose plane went down in Syria in 2014. First Lieutenant Muath al-Kasasbeh, 26, was shot down in his F-16 fighter jet and burnt to death as a captive by Isis fighters. Ishmale’s profile showed al-Kasasbeh shortly before he was set on fire, with the caption: “Looking for seasoned firewood.”

Another photograph featured Ishmale sitting beside the son of Abu Anas al-Libi, a senior al-Qaeda figure. The son was armed with a handgun. In addition, the account showed Ishmale holding a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, an anti-aircraft gun and a machinegun. In one he wore camouflaged clothing with what appeared to be an Isis flag in flames behind him.

Watch this space: If the bomber’s brother refuses to give evidence to the inquiry this autumn, he could be jailed. If he does give evidence, it will make for extraordinary viewing and could prove to be acutely embarrassing for the security services. We will follow it closely.

Covid-19 update

  • Case rates: Despite the recent reopening of outdoor hospitality and non-essential shops, the Greater Manchester case rate is still falling — now at 35, down 14% on the previous week. The rate across England is 24.6, down 5.4%. See our dashboard for more.

  • Hospitals: There are now only 29 Covid patients in critical beds in GM, way down from 170 in Feb, and just 132 in non-critical wards. “The total number of beds occupied by Covid patients is probably less than 3% of the overall bed-stock in Greater Manchester," says Sir Richard Leese.

  • Vaccinations: 72% of over-70s in Greater Manchester have now received their second vaccine doses, and 464,481 people have overall (which equates to 19% of adult residents). See all the vaccine numbers in the graphic below.

This week’s weather

Home of the week

This lovely oak-fitted kitchen belongs to a two-bed end-terrace house that’s on the market for £150,000 in Shawforth, Rochdale.

Five stories worth reading

1. Meet the UK’s oldest landlady

Nancy Swanick is the landlady at Peveril Of The Peak and she is 91 years old. As you might expect, she has some colourful stories to tell about the historic pub. “In her five decades here, the one-time mental health nurse has cleaned up its reputation, helped prevent city planners from knocking it down and brewery officials from turning it into a themed bar (“they wanted plastic palm trees”), and poured pints for everyone from Eric Cantona to the Gallagher brothers.” Read this lovely piece in the Independent here.

2. Angela Rayner’s world

“Angela Rayner likes a good scrap. She regrets calling a Tory MP “scum” – but only because it wasn’t parliamentary language.“ We enjoyed this interview in the i with Labour deputy leader and MP for Ashton-under-Lyne. “She is careful to avoid any hint of criticism of Starmer personally and denies she vetoed Rachel Reeves as shadow Chancellor,” the piece says.

3. Leese comes out fighting

Sir Richard Leese has hit back against claims that Manchester City Council is “failing”. The departure of Louise Wyman has given rise to the idea — reported by the website Place North West — that there “is a groundswell of doubt in Labour ranks” about Joanne Roney, the council’s chief executive. Sir Leese writes: “Speculation about her leadership is nothing less than gratuitous and wilful disrespect to her achievements.”

4. The progress of metro mayors

“Posters of Andy Burnham by the local artist Stanley Chow now outsell his geometric renderings of the Manchester United legends Alex Ferguson and George Best, as well as the Stone Roses and Liam Gallagher,” reports the Guardian’s Helen Pidd, in a great piece about the progress of this country’s metro mayors and the state of regional devolution.

5. Folk phrase, scientific term

“People talk about how awful it’s going to be and how damaged people are going to be when they come out of this.” This fascinating article from Outside explores the world of cabin fever — and how it can be managed. It features insights from psychologist Emma Barrett and research psychologist Nathan Smith from the University of Manchester.

Things to do

Podcast | “Notoriously private” brothers Mohsin and Zuber Issa had their first petrol station in 2001. Now they’re billionaires — their most recent high-profile acquisition being ASDA last year. Last week fast-food chain Leon was also added to their portfolio. Listen to this profile, presented by Mark Coles on BBC Sounds.

Book launch | Carcanet Press are launching textural artist Stephen Raw’s new photobook Where Ferrous Metal Meets Air and Water on Thursday. Photos are of pieces of rust too large to exhibit in Rust: The Art Gallery, which is in Old Trafford. Since 2017 Raw has been Manchester Cathedral’s Artist-in-Residence, and his work is informed by “a love of language.” This is an online event, but the show will be reopening on Thursday as well, so keep an eye out for that.

Talk | ‘Midway upon the journey of our life/ I found myself within a forest dark,/ For the straightforward pathway had been lost.’ So begins one of the most important works of medieval literature. Portico Librarian Emma Marigliano will be hosting a talk on Thursday about the ‘Dynamic Duo’ of Dante Alighieri and Gustave Doré. Book here.

Exhibition | Something a bit different for the adventurous: “Turner Prize-winning artist Tai Shani takes us on an LSD-inspired hallucinatory journey across time and space.” It’s an online exhibition with Manchester International Festival’s Virtual Factory. We suggest you save this for Friday evening, as it’s a bit heavy for a Monday…

Pub crawl | The good folk over at Manchester’s Finest have devised a pub crawl based around tram stops — The Metrolink Pub Terrace Trail: From Altrincham to Piccadilly. So, if you fancy hopping on the tram for a day at the weekend and stopping off for a few pints along the way, click here to see which pubs you’ll be visiting.

Magnum photographer and British documentary photographer Martin Parr has an eye for the “quirks of ordinary life.” Parr studied photography at Manchester Polytechnic from 1970 to 1973, and after graduating, worked at Manchester Council.

Letters to the editor

We should remember when condemning brutalist buildings, that there was a time when the nowadays much-loved Victorian heritage was similarly regarded as ugly and out of date. It took the loss of treasures like Euston Station and our own Strangeways Assize Courts to help change minds. That isn't to say that everything loved by the likes of the Concrete Society and the Twentieth Century Society value should be kept and the 'Berlin Wall' is a case in point — those structures were a mistake, and Piccadilly Gardens has never been right since they were built. Chris Bamber, Beswick

Thank you for your comprehensive piece about the candidates challenging Andy Burnham (‘Meet the candidates vying for Andy Burnham's job’). I saw a reader (or maybe a fellow member) challenging you to interview all of the main candidates running against the mayor, and I’m glad you did. They might not have a cat in hell’s chance of winning, but it’s important that voters know who they can choose between so they can make an informed choice. Bev Hines, Bury