Alleged Arena bomb plotter ‘sacks defence team and quits trial’, jurors told

The brother of the Manchester Arena bomber Salman Abedi has sacked his legal team and declined to participate in his murder trial, jurors have been told.

Hashem Abedi was not present in court as the Old Bailey jury was informed that he had “withdrawn” from the case, dispensing with his entire defence team, including lead counsel Stephen Kamlish QC.

Informing jurors of developments as the prosecution case formally closed, judge Mr Justice Jeremy Baker said: “Although up until this morning Mr Abedi exercised that right to have legal representation, he has now decided he does not wish to have further legal representation in this trial.

“Because there is no obligation, you should not draw any adverse conclusion against him.

“His decision not to have further legal representation and not to appear in the court has this consequence: We have reached the stage whereby we have reached the end of the evidence.

“I am sure you were anticipating a prosecution closing address followed by the defence, and then my summing the case up.

Manchester Arena incident
Manchester Arena incident

“As you will appreciate, as Mr Abedi is not in court, he cannot make those closing submissions.”

The judge said there was no obligation, either, for the defendant to appear in court during the trial.

He added: “Although it’s a right to be present during a person’s trial, it is not a duty on them that they are obliged to be present.

“In this case, although Mr Abedi was present for the vast majority of the trial, for the last few days he has been largely absent from the court room itself, and as we understand it, it is likely he is going to be absent for the remainder of the trial.

“That’s his choice.”

Prosecutor Duncan Penny QC, addressing jurors subsequently, set out questions he would have asked the defendant had he given evidence – describing Abedi’s refusal to appear in the witness box as “thundering silence”.

It meant Abedi’s denial was only advanced through a prepared statement given to police last summer after being extradited from Libya to face murder charges over the blast.

Mr Penny said: “We suggest that prepared statement is demonstrably riddled with lies, lies which we suggest you may already have identified.

“It was an attempt by the defendant last July to pull the wool over the investigations … to point the finger at his dead brother.”

Abedi is accused of plotting with 22-year-old older brother Salman, who died in the suicide bombing as concert-goers left the Ariana Grande gig at Manchester Arena on May 22 2017.

Jurors heard how Abedi answered “no comment” in police interviews after being extradited to the UK last year, but handed detectives a prepared statement during which he denied involvement and said he “could not comprehend” his brother’s actions.

His statement, read to jurors, added: “Had I had any idea of it I would have reported it to my mother initially and then to other family members to prevent it from happening.

“I was shocked my brother had done this and felt bad for everybody.

“I could never have envisaged that my brother had it in him to do this to innocent people.”

The trial opened on February 4, when the prosecutor told jurors Abedi was “just as guilty of murder” as Salman.

The brothers allegedly duped friends and associates into helping to buy components of the homemade explosive TATP.

They are alleged to have ordered, stockpiled and transported the components, plus several kilos of screws and nails to maximise carnage, aided by a variety of different addresses and vehicles at their disposal in 2017.

Abedi, now also 22, denies 22 counts of murder, one count of attempted murder encompassing the injured survivors, and conspiring with his brother to cause explosions.