Victims' families give statements on first day of Manchester Arena bombing sentencing
The first day of the sentencing hearing of Manchester Arena bomb plotter Hashem Abedi has concluded at the Old Bailey.
The Manchester-born 23-year-old is being sentenced for 22 counts of murder, one count of attempted murder encompassing the survivors, and plotting to cause an explosion likely to endanger life following his conviction by jurors in March.
His older brother, Salman, 22 at the time of the atrocity on May 22 2017, died in the attack.
Hashem was not present in court at the Old Bailey having sacked his defence team part-way through the trial and effectively withdrew from the case by refusing to leave prison.
The judge, Mr Justice Jeremy Baker said: “He has had every opportunity and has been encouraged to have legal representation.
“But he has made it clear and I am satisfied that he does not wish to be present at this hearing.”
This meant grieving families and survivors were not able to hear from the man police believe may have masterminded the plot.
The court heard Hashem Abedi would have been eligible for a whole-life sentence had he been over the age of 21 at the time of the bombing.
Survivors and families of the 22 victims of the Manchester Arena attack – including the mothers of young South Shields couple Liam Curry and Chloe Rutherford and the daughter of Hartlepool-born Jane Tweddle – read out statements to the court.
Survivors spoke of being haunted by feelings guilt and rage at not being able to stop the arena atrocity.
One woman told how she suffered flashbacks and had a “heightened awareness of my safety” and was “suspicious of everyone”.
She said the memory of the attack would live with her forever and “every step small or large” was a challenge.
During the trial, prosecutor Duncan Penny QC said Hashem Abedi was “just as guilty” as the bomber who killed 22 people aged between eight and 51.
From January 2017, the brothers set about buying 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.
Mr Penny said Hashem Abedi was “at times chauffeur, at times quartermaster, at times electrical technician” in the plot.
Following his arrest, he tried to “point the finger of responsibility” at his dead brother, but Mr Penny said it was merely “an attempt to evade responsibility for his own culpability, for the cruel and cowardly carnage that took place at the Arena that night”.
The sentencing hearing will resume on Thursday, August 20.