Families of the Manchester Arena attack say justice has prevailed but have slammed the bomber’s ‘cowardly,’ brother for hiding in his cell while he was jailed for 55 years – longest minimum life term in history.
Justice Jeremy Baker told the hearing Hashem Abedi ‘may never be released’ while the ISIS-inspired terror attacker hid in his cell refusing to appear in court at any stage during the two-day sentencing.
The minimum term is the longest ever handed down by a court in British legal history and was met by gasps from the families of the victims sitting in court two of the Old Bailey.
Relatives of some of Abedi’s 22 victims, which included an eight-year-old girl, welcomed today’s sentencing, as a father of one of the victims said he hopes ‘this coward never sees the light of day again’.
The family of Kelly Brewster, 32, who was murdered in the attack, said: ‘His sentence will never compare to the sentence we have to live for the rest of our lives without Kelly. One day he will be free but we will forever be broken.’
Boris Johnson said the sentence was ‘an opportunity to reflect on the importance of tolerance, community and kindness’.
The sentence followed a tearful hearing in which families of the victims read out impact statements to an empty dock after Abedi refused to enter the court room.
It was earlier revealed how the mass murderer could not face a ‘whole life tariff’ despite being found guilty in England’s biggest terror trial because he was under 21 when he helped his brother plot the bomb attack.
Instead a minimum term had to be set by the judge. Mr Justice Baker told the court as he passed sentence: ‘If the accused had been over the age of 21, as was his brother, it would have been the prosecution submission that this was a case where a whole life tariff was appropriate.
‘It is a matter not for this court but for parliament which has passed legislation that prevents the court making such a sentence.’
Abedi, the brother of the Manchester Arena bomber Salman, had previously been found guilty in March of the murder of 22 people – including an eight-year-old girl – after an Ariana Grande concert in May 2017.
The court heard he helped source, buy, stockpile and transport components for his older brother’s bomb from January 2017, using multiple mobile phones, vehicles and addresses to stash the deadly materials.
The terrorist, born and raised in Manchester, was accused of showing ‘contempt’ to the families of those he and his suicide bomber brother killed more than three years earlier by not coming into the dock.
Mr |Justice Baker ordered a copy of his sentencing remarks to be served on Abedi in his cell. He said: ‘Although Salman Abedi was directly responsible, it was clear the defendant took an integral part in the planning.’
He added: ‘The defendant and his brother were equally culpable for the deaths and injuries caused.
‘The stark reality is that these were atrocious crimes, large in their scale, deadly in their intent, and appalling in their consequences.
‘The despair and desolation of the bereaved families has been palpable.
‘The defendant should clearly understand the minimum term he should serve is 55 years. He may never be released.’
The trial was the ‘largest murder case in English legal history’, Jenny Hopkins from the Crown Prosecution Service said.
She added: ‘The prosecution case was that Hashem Abedi effectively worked hand-in-hand with his brother as the bomber planned and carried out his deadly attack on that night in May 2017.
‘Abedi will spend the next five decades behind bars where he can’t harm others.’
Today, Abedi again was not present in the dock and was not represented after he sent a letter to the court on July 8 saying he did not want legal representation.
In the note, responding to Judge Baker’s own letter to the defendant, Abedi wanted the court to ‘take into account the conditions under which he was held..while he was in custody in Libya’.
The judge said the 1,024 days spent remanded in custody will count towards the overall sentence.
The families of teenage sweethearts Chloe Rutherford, 17, and Liam Curry, 19, appeared together outside court to thank the judge for passing ‘the biggest ever sentence in these circumstances.’
Mark Rutherford said Abedi ‘won’t really be serving the sentence that we are’ but added: ‘We would like to thank Mr Barrowcliffe, our legal team, and Greater Manchester Police… For all their hard work and perseverance in bringing the trial to court.
‘We would also like to thank the jury for their verdict.
‘We would like to thank the judge Jeremy Baker for passing the biggest ever sentence in these circumstances.’
Victoria Higgins, lawyer for Slater and Gordon and acting on behalf of the families of 12 victims, hailed the ‘end of one chapter for those affected by this terrible atrocity’.
She said: ‘The families have waited a long time to see this man brought to justice and facing a life sentence for his crimes.’
Sharon and Steve Goodman, grandparents of victim Olivia Campbell-Hardy, 15, watched the court hearing screened in a room for families of victims at the Hilton Hotel in Manchester.
Outside, Mrs Goodman said: ‘I think it was far more than we expected, we expected about 40 years.’
Mr Goodman added: ‘I’m quite shocked by it and a bit numbed by it, but it’s justice for Manchester and justice for the survivors.
‘But it will never bring our loved ones back, the 22, but it’s showing, showing some determination.
‘I was hoping it would be a full life sentence but because of his age they said they couldn’t.
‘If it ever looks like he’s getting released, some of the younger ones in the families will take it up and get him kept in.
‘We need to talk more about peace, we are educating the youth of all cultures that terrorism is not a way out, it’s not a thing to do, it’s not going to benefit them and it really needs the mothers to educate the sons because this mother has lost two sons now, not just the one, she’s lost two.’
The Abedi brothers joined their parents in Libya the month before the blast amid concerns the siblings were becoming radicalised.
However, Salman returned to the UK on May 18. He bought the final components needed for the bomb, rented a flat in the city centre in which to build it, and carried out reconnaissance on the arena before finally executing the plot – the chilling final moments of which were caught on CCTV.
Hashem Abedi was also absent from court two of the Old Bailey when the jury delivered its verdict in March after sacking his legal team in the last week of the trial and deciding to take no further part in the trial.
He offered no defence to the charges that he had helped his brother, Salman, plan the attack on the Manchester Arena in May 2017, killing children, teenagers and adults as they poured out of an Ariana Grande concert or waited for their loved ones, and critically injuring dozens more.
Hashem Abedi was charged with the 22 murders by the Crown Prosecution Service even though he was in Libya at the time of the suicide attack by his older brother.
Duncan Penny QC, prosecuting, told the jury that Hashem Abedi was ‘just as responsible for this atrocity, as surely as if he had selected the target and detonated the bomb himself.’
Police built a circumstantial case after the brothers got rid of a series of ‘operational’ phones they were using for the plot.
It included detailed forensic work to determine Hashem’s fingerprints were on a prototype detonator, even though they could not fingerprint him.
Investigators came to realise that the younger brother was ‘every bit, if not more, as culpable for this monstrous attack as Salman Abedi.’ Det Chief Supt Simon Barraclough, who led the investigation, said.
‘I believe he provided encouragement right up to the end. This is a man who has been with his brother from start to finish,’ he added.
The Abedi brothers appear to have learned to make triacetone triperoxide (TATP) from an ISIS cookery-style instructional video before ordering the key chemicals over Amazon.
The attack was paid for by benefit fraud, credit card fraud, car insurance fraud, and a wrongly paid student loan.
Police built up the case against Hashem Abedi, using mobile phone data, automatic number plate recognition (ANPR), fingerprint analysis, and forensic examination of the bomb.
Hashem’s fingerprints were found on a rolled-up piece of metal in the rubbish bins in the basement of a rents flat in Granby Row, central Manchester, that was said to be a prototype detonator.
Mobile phone cell site analysis and automatic number plate recognition placed him at a 12th floor council flat that the brothers had rented as an explosives laboratory.
He was also at Hulme Market in Manchester when the public wifi was used to set up a Gmail account that translated as ‘We have come to slaughter’, later used to order hydrogen peroxide.
At least 6kg of TATP could have been manufactured with the amount of hydrogen peroxide that Abedi and his brother allegedly bought on Amazon.
The bomb was packed with more than 2,500 metal nuts bought from Screwfix and B &Q, weighing 28.5kg, which caused most of the injuries, both fatal and non-fatal.
The Abedi family were concerned that the two brothers had become radicalised while living alone in the family home in Fallowfield, South Manchester.
Their parents flew back from Libya to take them home with them, but Salman managed to return to Manchester a month later without raising flags with MI5 and put the finishing touches to his bomb in four days.
His final preparations included a reconnaissance trip to the arena where Take That were performing the first of a six dates, and shopping for thousands of metal nuts at outlets including Screwfix and B &Q.
Detectives believe that he was speaking to Hashem on the phone back in Libya, asking him for advice on how to wire up the detonator circuit.
When he got to Shudehill tram stop on his way to the arena to launch his attack, Salman sat down on a bench, and called a family phone number in Libya, talking for 4 mins and 12 seconds.
Justice Baker said he was ‘satisfied,’ that phone call was ‘with the accused’.
Speaking after the sentencing, Figen Murray, whose son Martyn Hett was among those killed in the blast, said outside court: ‘Today’s sentence given to Hashem Abedi signifies the end of another chapter in our lives and reaffirmed to us that the British justice system is strong and fair and punishes those who break the law.
‘Although our lives have been deeply affected by what happened, we can now at least put the trial behind us and mentally prepare ourselves for the public inquiry that is starting soon.
‘We want to reiterate our gratitude to our amazing legal team and everyone who has supported us through the difficult times of the trial.’
Martyn’s father Paul said outside court: ‘We have spent two days listening to harrowing details of lives that have been shattered, not just the 22, but hundreds of lives changed forever.
‘Hashem Abedi did not even be man enough, he was a coward and did not come to court to hear how he had affected those people.
‘He’s now going to spend the rest of his life in jail, I’m sure because after the 55 years he was given, I’m sure the Parole Board which then has to make a decision, will ensure this coward never sees the light of day again.’
Asked about Abedi refusing to come to court, Sharon Goodman, whose 15-year-old granddaughter died in the attack, said: ‘Part of me thinks it’s bravado because of his age. I think he was absolutely contemptible, I thought he showed total disregard to the seriousness of the allegations and it was just contempt of court really. Arrogance.
‘I don’t think it was cowardice I just thought it was contemptible what he did.
‘I don’t understand it. I don’t know enough about it, radicalisation or what happened, to understand it.
‘I do think that parents have a large part to play and you bring your children up to have a sense of responsibility and to have respect, which he obviously hadn’t because he didn’t show any respect to the families.’
Ian Hopkins, Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, described the brothers as ‘cowardly’ and ‘calculating murderers’ who tried to divide society.
He said: ‘He (Hashem Abedi) showed that in his contempt for the court proceedings and by the end just not turning up.
‘But they failed to do that because actually what that atrocity did do, as painful as it was for those that lost their loved ones and those injured, it brought everybody together.
‘And it showed, it showed the world that we stood together here in Manchester in our darkest hour.
‘And the fact that we’ve had this sentence and him brought to justice shows terrorists around the world, if you commit an atrocity in the UK we will do absolutely everything to make sure you stand trial here and are brought to justice.’
Abedi will be eligible for parole in 55 years.
But asked whether he expected Abedi to spend the rest of his life in prison as a result, Mr Hopkins replied: ‘I would suspect in all likelihood, yes.’
Justice Baker praised the ‘tremendous dignity,’ shown by victims and families during the trial and sentencing hearing.
He said before rising to consider the sentence: ‘I’m aware those who have been immediately affected by events in the Manchester Area and the reliving of the circumstances of those events and the deaths and injuries that were caused, is no doubt extraordinary painful to all tho those who have either attended this court building or other locations.
‘I would like to pay tribute to the tremendous dignity and courage of all those who attended throughout the trial and this sentencing hearing.’
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has offered his continued support for the victims’ families following today’s result.
He said: ‘The Manchester Arena attack was a horrifying and cowardly act of violence which targeted children and families.
‘Those who were taken from us will never be forgotten, nor will the spirit of the people of Manchester who came together to send a clear message to the entire world that terrorists will never prevail.
‘My thoughts remain with the survivors, and with the friends and families of victims, who have shown remarkable courage and dignity.
‘I would also like to express my thanks to the police and all those who have worked tirelessly to deliver justice for the families. Today’s sentencing is an opportunity to reflect on the importance of tolerance, community and kindness – values which are fundamental to our country, and which we saw in Manchester in the face of unimaginable tragedy.’
Home Secretary Priti Patel tweeted: ‘The terrorist attack at Manchester Arena inflicted unimaginable loss and suffering to victims and their families.
‘Thanks to the efforts of our outstanding police and other partners – at home and abroad – justice has been delivered for them today.’
Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, said the attack on Manchester Arena was an act of ‘pure evil’.
He said: ‘The attack on the Manchester Arena, and the targeting of innocent children and families, was an act of pure evil. We said at the time that we would do whatever we could to ensure those responsible were brought to justice and it is a relief that it has finally happened.
‘Today we think first of the families who lost loved ones and everyone whose lives were changed forever by this appalling crime. We know today will be yet another difficult day for them and we will continue to support them in any we can, but we hope the fact that someone has at last been held accountable will bring a degree of comfort and resolution.
‘On behalf of everyone affected by the events of 22 May 2017, I want to thank our own police force – Greater Manchester Police – for the way in which every officer from the Chief Constable downwards responded to this attack, in the outstanding care and support given to bereaved families, and in the highly professional and painstaking investigation which has secured this conviction.
‘The investigation team, led by ACC Russ Jackson and DCS Simon Barraclough, has done an outstanding job, particularly in overcoming the many complexities thrown up by the extradition process, and we are hugely grateful to them all, as we are to the Government, and in particular to the Defence Secretary for the support he provided.
‘This attack on our city and everything it represents caused untold misery. But ultimately it failed. It was meant to divide us but it only brought us closer together.
‘And now one of those responsible is behind bars. So today is a day when our city and its people can take another step forward on the road to recovery from May 2017 and mark an important victory in the fight against hate, violence and terrorism.’
A two-day sentencing hearing got off to an emotional start on Wednesday, as a mother of one of the victims told a court how her heart ‘snapped’ when she heard of her daughter’s death.
In a tearful hearing at the Old Bailey, families of the victims read out impact statements to an empty dock after Hashem Abedi refused to enter the court room.
The ISIS-loving terrorist was brought to court from prison but refused to appear in the dock at Court Two of the London courthouse, remaining in the cells below.
A number of families read out emotional statements about the effect of the bombing on their lives.
Lisa Rutherford, whose daughter Chloe, 17, died alongside her boyfriend, Liam Curry, 19, said the trip from their home in from South Shields, Tyneside to the Ariana Grande concert had been a Christmas gift.
‘Chloe was so excited to go and see her idol with Liam by her side and do a little shopping too,’ Mrs Rutherford told the Old Bailey.
She described how her daughter had planned her 18th birthday for the following August in so much detail, that she had chosen the music and picked out a dress.
‘We will never get to see our daughter Chloe celebrate her birthdays,’ Mrs Rutherford said, taking frequent breaks to compose herself.
‘She was never able to enjoy this and just dance the night away as she wished for. We will never get the excitement of her and Liam getting engaged, seeing the ring.
‘Me and her dad helping her set up home and her dad doing all the decorating as he would have loved to do, watching her grow.
‘Somehow we are expected to get through life without her and it just seems impossible Our lives have changed for ever.’
She added: ‘From the moment of receiving that call saying something had happened at the arena, my heart snapped. I am emotionally scarred.
‘We have lost so much, my giggle buddy, my theatre trip buddy and all those special mother and daughter times.’
Her husband was also ‘totally devastated’, she said.
‘Taking her to work or parties or charity gigs was his time listening to her stories listening to what was going on. Special times together are no more.’
Chloe’s brother Scott had been happy that his friend from the cricket team was going out with his sister and would tell their parents: ‘She’ll be fine with Liam, mam.’
‘Not only has he lost his only sibling, Scott is just broken,’ Mrs Rutherford said.
Caroline Curry explained how her son had struggled against dyslexia to get into university and raised thousands of pounds for charity.
‘There are not enough words in the world to explain the pain I feel,’ she said.
‘Liam was so many things to so many people and a wonderful boyfriend for Chloe who was snatched away. Life now is not a life it is an existence that I tolerate.
‘I hide from the world. It is like I have lost a best friend. I didn’t get to go on our shopping day for a ring or see her reaction when he asked for Chloe’s hand.
‘All we have now is heartbreak and dreams smashed away in a few seconds. I can’t see when Liam and Chloe became parents.
‘He idolised his dad and I know he would have made the most amazing dad himself.’
Mrs Curry held up a photo Liam, and addressed Abedi, saying: ‘You took his future, my future our families future. All we have now is heartbreak and dreams of what if. What you took from me was more precious than gold, a beautiful boy, inside and out.
‘I want you to look at Liam and remember the beautiful boy that was snatched away. This life has lost a beautiful soul.’
‘I have no power to direct force to be used. In those circumstances, however unsatisfactory it is that Hashem Abedi is not in court to listen to the victim impact statements which are going to be read out to the court during the course of today and tomorrow, there is nothing the court itself can do about it.’
Abedi was not in court to hear the jury deliver its verdict in March after sacking his legal team in the trial and deciding to take no further part in proceedings.
He offered no defence to the charges that he had helped his brother plan the attack on the Manchester Arena, killing children, teenagers and adults as they poured out of a concert or waited for their loved ones, and critically injuring dozens more.
Mr Penny told the jury that Hashem Abedi was ‘just as responsible for this atrocity, as surely as if he had selected the target and detonated the bomb himself.’
Police were built a circumstantial case against Hashem which included detailed forensic work to determine Hashem’s fingerprints were on a prototype detonator.
The judge added that it was for parliament to change legislation if defendant’s under 21 were to be handed whole life terms. But he could be given multiple life sentences with a minimum term starting point of 30 years.
Ahead of the sentencing, family members of the Manchester bombing victims have described how ‘life will never be the same’, with heartbroken parents breaking down in court as they recalled the moment they discovered their loved ones had died.
Mrs Rutherford, mother of 17-year-old Chloe from South Shields, said her ‘heart snapped’ when she received a telephone call with the news.
Wiping away tears, and supported in court by crutches, she said: ‘We are lost, we are devastated and we feel an overwhelming loss.
‘Somehow we are expected to get through life without her, without our baby girl, and it just feels impossible.
‘There is always that empty chair where she should be.’
Caroline Curry held up a photo of her son Liam Curry, 19, also from South Shields, who was Chloe’s boyfriend and also died in the blast.
Mrs Curry spoke through tears as she appeared to address some of her comments to Abedi, who refused to come into court for his sentencing hearing.
Survivor Claire Booth wept as she described her sister Kelly Brewster, 32, from Sheffield, as ‘my sidekick’.
Ms Booth said: ‘I can’t go anywhere in public on my own, even if it’s to the shop. Sometimes I feel like a prisoner in my own home.
‘I try as much as possible to find some level of normality.
‘My dad has not been able to walk his daughter down the aisle, my mum can’t take her shopping for a wedding dress. We will never see her grow old. As a family, we have been thrown into a world of chaos.’
Figen Murray, mother of Martyn Hett, a 29-year-old public relations manager who lived in Stockport, described how she is now unable to go to bed until after 10.31pm, the time the bomb went off.
She said: ‘I still cannot reconcile that I was fast asleep while my son lay dead on the floor, and I am ashamed about that.
‘The enormity of the loss has left a massive void, Martyn was at the top of his game, he had wonderful friendships and he was due to travel.’
Mr Hett’s father Paul Hett said the family would ‘never get over’ his death.
He said: ‘Few of us can face going near to the arena or Victoria station. Every subsequent act of terrorism brings fresh anxiety. We are living in constant fear that something like this can happen again – that knock on the door.’
Simon Callander described himself as the ‘proud father’ of 18-year-old victim Georgina Callander, who lived in Preston.
Speaking about the aftermath of the attack, he said: ‘I didn’t see much daylight for the next few days. The house seemed so crowded with family, friends, police and neighbours. I walk the streets at night because I can’t go out in the day because everyone wants to come up and talk out of the goodness of their hearts.’