IF, like me, you thought the spooks at MI5 were mundane versions of James Bond, dedicated night and day to saving the country, then think again.
On its website, the modern-day MI5 admits there may be some long hours but bosses like to encourage a work-life balance and support part-time and flexi-time working.
In a bid to find new recruits, the site even has one employee gushing: “I come in early and leave early on Wednesdays to help out at my son’s Scout group.”
Promoting these amazing work-life balance perks sits uneasily with me when MI5 is actually hiring staff whose job is to keep us all safe.
Surely every employee should be utterly devoted to protecting our country.
They shouldn’t need enticing with early cuts so they can nip out to the Scout hut.
I highlight all this because it makes you wonder who exactly is employed by MI5.
And who took their eye off the ball and allowed Salman Abedi to detonate a backpack stuffed with explosives at an Ariana Grande concert in May 2017, leading to the deaths of 22 innocent children and adults.
An inquiry found this week these people may still have been alive today had it not been for security blunders by MI5, which failed to fulfil its duties.
Abedi was a man who had ties to IS and al-Qaeda and had fought alongside Islamic fanatics in Libya.
He was on MI5’s radar, but two pieces of intelligence given to the spy agency were not even investigated.
One was described by an officer as a “pressing national security concern” but she did not bother to discuss it with colleagues or even write a report the same day.
If MI5 had acted, Abedi’s return to the UK from Libya would have been taken seriously.
Instead, the 22-year-old just swanned through Manchester Airport.
Nobody searched him to find the switch he later used for his device.
Nobody followed him to his nearby car, where Abedi kept his bomb.
The head of MI5, Ken McCallum, admitted he was “profoundly sorry” his spooks did not prevent the attack.
There were further mistakes — counter-terrorism policing in the North West failed to identify Abedi as someone who had exchanged messages with a terrorist prisoner.
And he was never referred to the Prevent deradicalisation program, despite his terror links.
There was a plan for him to be investigated — but the meeting to discuss this was scheduled for nine days after he died detonating the bomb.
One spook said they were “struggling” with work pressures.
But Sir John Saunders, chair of the public inquiry, said there was no evidence that resource pressures were to blame for a missed opportunity.
He did, however, say they simply did not “act swiftly enough”.
Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, said he thought the country was “not prepared for a terrorist attack of this nature in a city like ours”.
But surely MI5 should act swiftly.
And be prepared.
That is its job.
Even if that city is not London.
There are certain jobs where speed and efficiency are paramount.
Being a member of an intelligence team that protects our country is surely one of these.
This week, the dad of the youngest of Abedi’s victims, eight-year-old Saffie-Rose Roussos, said the security services are “not fit to keep us safe” and that MI5 had “blood on their hands”.
Meanwhile I struggled to hold back tears when Elaine McIver’s partner, Paul Price, was interviewed on Good Morning Britain on Friday.
They went to the concert to collect his daughter.
Paul and Gabrielle, then 13, survived, but Elaine, a detective constable with Cheshire Police, died.
He described her as “the love of his life” and said they were “so lucky” to find each other after years of being single.
But he says his “life ended that night” and now all he has are precious memories.
Amazingly, he gave a balanced verdict and praised MI5 for preventing other attacks.
But he said there could be no excuses for the failings that led to this one. He said he will never forgive them.
Summing things up perfectly, he added: “It was people not doing their job properly, and the devastating consequence.”
Paul said Abedi was no criminal mastermind and “they seemed to make it very easy for him”.
And that should just never have happened. I hope MI5 will learn from this — every single member of the agency, from the bottom up, who all have a duty to protect us.
That is the job that they signed up for.
As they say in the Scouts, we should all, “Dib, dib, dob” or “Do our best”.
What an absolute disgrace that the MI5 spooks did not.
Meet is for mums
THERE is a baby group in London that has caused chaos this week.
CabaBabaRave is very over the top – drag queens in bondage-like gear, dancers in shorts and high heels doing acrobatic sequences while dangling from the ceiling – and men in thongs dancing while mums and babies watch.
A Family Education Trust spokesman said it “raises serious concerns about safeguarding and sexualisation of children”.
But for me the biggest problem was calling it a “baby sensory” group instead of one for “desperate mums needing a laugh”.
If it’s anything like the baby groups I went to, the babies are too young to have a clue if it is night or day and the mums just want to offload, share boring baby dilemmas and count down the minutes to wine time.
TALKING of wine . . . forget the shortage of cucumbers and tomatoes.
The lack of Sauvignon Blanc right now is more worrying.
Last week I had two nights out and frequented four pubs and NONE had a drop of it, apparently due to “supply issues”.
I had to resort to an Austrian number which was so offensive I couldn’t – which is unheard of – finish it!
My liver is probably happy.
I am not.
Inspiring Kate plays it straight
KATE Garraway knows that some people may have assumed that because she is on TV and has spoken so much about her husband Derek’s battle with Covid that they’ve had special treatment from the NHS and bypassed waiting lists.
Nothing could be further from the case.
And Kate says that is as it should be.
Derek is in fact still waiting on referrals from almost three years ago.
Thankfully her job on GMB has helped her in other ways though – by paying for carers, providing for her family and adapting their home.
Kate says of Derek: “I can’t imagine how hard it must be for him.” I can’t imagine how hard it is for her.
But Kate told The Sun yesterday that she is now going to find the time to make a hard-hitting expose on the broken care system with its backlogs, underfunding and under-appreciation of carers’ skills.
She wants to share other people’s stories so that together they can make a difference.
Somehow this woman has found the energy and determination to once again think of others.
She truly is an inspiration.
Nick is canyon fodder
NICK Knowles signed up to do a new show exploring the history of the Grand Canyon – meeting the Hualapai tribe, whose ancestors used to roam there, and taking part in a project to restore the region’s endangered condor population.
But then some smart ar*e thought he should explore the caves 21 storeys below.
Nick had to climb through a crevice only wide enough for “real cavers” who he says are like “whippets”.
He said he had “palpitations” and was terrified.
He struggled to breathe.
He piled on 4st during lockdown and hit 18st.
You can see the next show already, can’t you . . . DIET S.O.S.
Danny makes a splash
Danny Dyer blew an horrific sum on a holiday to the Maldives for Christmas after he quit as EastEnders Mick Carter.
He said “It cost me £140,000. Best holiday we’ve ever had.”
You’d be pretty gutted if it wasn’t, wouldn’t you?
HAS somebody at Glastonbury slipped in the mud and banged their head?
They have hired a boys club of Arctic Monkeys, Guns N’ Roses and Elton as headliners this year.
Plus they’ve managed to insult Lana Del Rey by putting her name on the SEVENTH row of the line up poster underneath all the fellas.
She is threatening to pull out completely. Good on her.
Bet the blokes don’t have the balls to join her.