Hashem Abedi, who was convicted of mass murder for his role in the Manchester Arena bombing in 2017, has refused to face relatives of his victims in court at an emotionally charged sentencing hearing in London.
The 23-year-old, the younger brother of the suicide bomber Salman Abedi, refused to appear in the Old Bailey’s courtroom number two on Wednesday for his sentencing hearing although he was said to be in the building.
The family of some of the 22 people killed in the atrocity were present to explain to the court how the loss of their loved ones had devastated their lives.
Addressing the court at the start of a two-day hearing, the judge, Mr Justice Jeremy Baker, said: “I have required in this case Hashem Abedi to be brought to the central criminal court. My understanding is that, having been brought to this building, Hashem Abedi has refused to come into the courtroom. That is a matter for HM Probation Service rather than myself. Force cannot be used.”
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 Islamic state-inspired terrorist helped his brother to order, collect and store materials for the deadly plot before the latter blew himself up as thousands of men, women and children left an Ariana Grande concert on the night of 22 May 2017. The attack killed 22 men, women and children aged between eight and 51.
The defendant, who went to Libya the month before the bombing, was arrested hours after the attack and was extradited back to Britain last summer.
Abedi initially told police he wanted to co-operate with them to prove his innocence. But he absented himself from much of his trial and sacked his legal team.
The judge told the hearing on Wednesday that Abedi could not be handed a whole life sentence because he was under the age of 21 at the time of the offences. He could, however, be given multiple life sentences with a minimum term starting point of 30 years.
The court was told that some of the victim impact and witness statements should not be read in open court but instead be considered by the judge in private.
The identities of some of the children covered by the statements could not be reported because of their age.
Claire Booth, a survivor of the bombing, broke down in tears as she read her victim personal statement. Her sister, Kelly Brewster, 32, from Sheffield, died in the blast.
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. I’m sad I’ve lost my sister and my sidekick. We spent a lot of time together, I struggle with feelings of guilt. Christmas and other family celebrations are just not the same any more.
“Since 22 May 2017 our family has not been the same. All our hearts are broken and will not be the same. It seems cruel that her life has been cut short. 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, the mother of Martyn Hett, a 29-year-old public relations manager who lived in Stockport and died in the blast, described her son as a talented performer who revelled in the spotlight.
She said: “Martyn loved dancing so much, and it would be perfectly normal to view an impromptu performance at home. He had a strong work ethic and lust for life. Over time Martyn became somewhat of a popular figure on social media. He absolutely loved attention.”
A public inquiry into the bombing is scheduled to start in September 2020.