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Manchester Arena families share grief as bomber’s brother refuses to face them in courtroom

Hashem Abedi, the younger brother of suicide bomber Salman Abedi, will be sentenced tomorrow.

Court artist sketch by Elizabeth Cook of Lisa Rutherford, mother of 17-year-old Chloe Rutherford from South Shields reading her victim statement at the Old Bailey, London
Court artist sketch by Elizabeth Cook of Lisa Rutherford, mother of 17-year-old Chloe Rutherford from South Shields reading her victim statement at the Old Bailey, London
Image: Elizabeth Cook via PA Images

THE FAMILIES OF the Manchester Arena bombing have vowed “evil will never win”, as the terrorist behind the plot refused to face them in court.

Today, the Old Bailey bore witness to an outpouring of grief ahead of the sentencing of Hashem Abedi, younger brother of suicide bomber Salman Abedi.

The judge, Justice Jeremy Baker, said the 23-year-old had been brought to the court building from prison, but added he was powerless to drag him into the courtroom.

It was left to family members of the 22 killed and dozens injured in the blast on 22 May 2017 to describe how the Abedi brothers’ actions affected their lives.

Harriet Taylor paid tribute to her mother, Jane Tweddle, 51, a school receptionist who lived in Blackpool.

She said in a statement: “We simply will not let evil win. Evil is invisible, it has no face, no heart, no race. But what we have that evil never will have is love.”

Michael Thompson, father of victim Michelle Kiss, 45, from Whalley in Lancashire, said: “We believe there is more good in the world than bad but unfortunately it only takes one bad person to devastate and destroy so many lives.”

The mothers of teenagers Chloe Rutherford and Liam Curry told of their devastation.

Lisa Rutherford said: “As a family we need answers – we are destroyed.”

Rutherford, who was supporting herself on crutches as she read her statement, said her “heart snapped” when she received a telephone call with the news that her 17-year-old daughter had died.

Wiping away tears, she said: “We are lost, we are devastated and we feel an overwhelming loss.”

Caroline Curry held up a photo of 19-year-old Liam and appeared to address some of her comments to the absent Hashem.

She said: “You took from me something 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.

“Your actions have caused this heartbreak. I just feel cheated. You took his future, my future, my family’s future. All we have now is heartbreak and dreams of what if.”

Survivor Claire Booth broke down in tears as she read her victim personal statement.

Her sister, Kelly Brewster, 32, from Sheffield, died in the blast.

Ms Booth said: “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 29-year-old Martyn Hett, 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.”

Samantha Leczkowski, mother of Sorrell Leczkowski, 14, from Leeds, said her daughter’s “senseless death” has “devastated us all”.

She said in a statement: “Sorrell’s bedroom has been untouched since (the blast) – I cannot bring myself to alter Sorrell’s room. I find comfort from sitting in Sorrell’s bedroom and talking.

“Losing one of my children has killed me – I may as well be dead.”

Trial

Hashem was found guilty by a jury in March of 22 counts of murder, attempted murder and plotting to cause an explosion likely to endanger life.

The Old Bailey heard that the Islamic State-inspired jihadi helped his brother order, collect and store materials needed for the plot, before the latter blew himself up as thousands of men, women and children left an Ariana Grande concert.

The defendant, who travelled to Libya the month before the bombing, was arrested hours after the attack and was extradited back to Britain last summer.

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He initially told police he wanted to co-operate to prove his innocence, but he absented himself from much of his trial and sacked his legal team.

It meant grieving families and survivors have not heard from the man police believe may have masterminded the plot.

The judge confirmed that Hashem Abedi cannot be handed a whole-life sentence because he was under the age of 21 at the time of the offences.

However, he could be given multiple life sentences with a minimum starting point of 30 years.

During the trial, prosecutor Duncan Penny QC said Hashem Abedi was “just as guilty” as the bomber who killed 22 men, women and children aged between eight and 51.

From January 2017, the brothers set about buying nuts and screws for shrapnel and ordering chemicals from Amazon for the homemade TATP explosive, with unwitting help from friends and relatives.

They hid their activities by switching mobile phones and using a variety of vehicles and homes to store the materials.

Their plans were briefly scuppered when their parents insisted they join them in Libya in April 2017 amid possible concerns about their descent into radicalisation, police said.

Salman Abedi returned alone the next month, and bought a rucksack and more shrapnel, constructed his bomb in a rented flat in central Manchester, and carried out reconnaissance missions.

Jurors were shown chilling CCTV footage of the 22-year-old travelling to the foyer of the arena, before detonating his bomb at 10.31pm, just as crowds were leaving the venue.

Penny said Hashem Abedi was “at times chauffeur, at times quartermaster, at times electrical technician” in the plot.

A public inquiry into the bombing is scheduled to start next month.

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