Manchester Arena bomb plotter Hashem Abedi sentenced to minimum of 55 years in jail
Video report by ITV News Correspondent Paul Davies
Hashem Abedi has been sentenced to a minimum of 55 years in jail for the murder of 22 people in the Manchester Arena bombing.
Abedi refused to attend the courtroom to face his verdict, as judge, Mr Justice Jeremy Baker, handed him 24 life sentences for organising the Manchester Arena bomb plot - adding he "may never be released."
The 23-year-old who was born and raised in Manchester, was accused of showing “contempt” to the families of those he and his suicide bomber brother Salman Abedi killed more than three years earlier by not coming into the dock.
Sentencing him on Thursday afternoon, the judge said: “Although Salman Abedi was directly responsible, it was clear the defendant took an integral part in the planning.”
The judge added: “The motivation for them was to advance the ideology of Islamism, a matter distinct to and abhorrent to the vast majority for those who follow the Islamic faith.
“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.
'It's emotional, it's like a weight lifted':
“The despair and desolation of the bereaved families has been palpable.”
Abedi, of Fallowfield in south Manchester, 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.
Some families in court gasped as the sentence was passed.
Figen Murray, whose son Martyn Hett was among those killed in the blast told ITV News her son's death is "absolutely heartbreaking."
"That pain just will never go away. It's literally, you know they say time is a good healer - that's nonsense," she said.
"You know when you lose people the way we did, it is not healing."
When asked by ITV News Senior Correspondent Paul Davies whether it will help at all that Abedi will spend the rest of his life in prison, Martyn stepfather Stuart Murray said: "I'm just thinking of that song 'Don't Look Back In Anger' and that's my message, I don't want to think about that anymore.
"I want to look forward to how we're going to move out of this and what I can do and what we all can do to be better people. I think there's a message there and that message has to come out, not the looking back."
Speaking outside court after the sentencing, the families of teenage sweethearts Chloe Rutherford, 17 and Liam Curry 19, who died in the blast, spoke of their own life sentence.
"We would like to thank judge Jeremy Baker for imposing the biggest sentence ever in these circumstances, however as the families of Chloe and Liam - no sentence will ever reflect the loss we feel each day without them, because he won't really be serving the sentence we are," Mark Rutherford, Chloe's dad, said.
Before sentencing, the judge paid tribute to the "tremendous dignity and courage" demonstrated by the families of the victims who attended court.
Mr Baker said the 1,024 days Abedi spent remanded in custody will count towards the overall sentence.
Abedi's older brother, Salman died in the attack after he detonated the suicide bomb in the foyer of Manchester Arena at 10.31pm on May 22, 2017, as thousands of men, women and children left a concert by pop star Ariana Grande.
The Abedis spent months ordering, stockpiling and transporting the deadly materials required for their murderous act, using multiple mobile phones, addresses and runaround vehicles to craft their bomb.
The 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.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson labelled the attack a "horrifying and cowardly act of violence" but praised the "courage and dignity" shown by the friends and families of the victims.
“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," the PM said in a statement.
The judge said he believes Hashem Abedi was equally capable with his suicide bomber brother of causing the deaths of the people at the Ariana Grande concert, ITV News Correspondent Paul Davies explains
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.”
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.
"It showed the world that we stood together here in Manchester in our darkest hour."
Mr Hopkins said he and his colleagues would have liked to have seen him receive a whole-life tariff – to remain in prison forever – but the judge was prevented from doing so because of the defendant’s age - 21 - at the time of the blast.
The two-day sentencing heard powerful and emotional testimony from the families of the victims, many of whom fought back tears as they described their devastating loss, their endless grief, and the gaping voids left by the massacre.
Samantha Leczkowski, mother of Sorrell Leczkowski, 14, from Leeds, said her daughter’s bedroom had been kept “untouched” since she died.
“Losing one of my children has killed me,” she said. “I may as well be dead.”
Harriet Taylor, in a tribute to her mother, Jane Tweddle, a 51-year-old school receptionist from Blackpool, said evil would not triumph.
“We simply will not let evil win,” she said. “Evil is invisible, it has no face, no heart, no race.
“But what we have that evil never will have is love.”
A public inquiry into the bombing is scheduled to start next month.