Manchester Arena families share grief as bomber’s brother refuses to attend

Grief-stricken family members of the Manchester Arena bomb victims have described the devastating void caused by the atrocity, repeating their demand for answers.

Parents of those killed in the blast took to the witness box at the Old Bailey during the start of a two-day sentencing hearing, but Hashem Abedi, younger brother of homegrown suicide bomber Salman Abedi, refused to attend.

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

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

Hashem Abedi in court
Hashem Abedi in court

Lisa Rutherford, mother of 17-year-old Chloe Rutherford, who died in the blast, said: “As a family we need answers – we are destroyed.”

Ms Rutherford, who was supporting herself on crutches as she read her statement in court, said her “heart snapped” when she received a telephone call with the news.

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

Caroline Curry held up a photo of her son Liam, 19 – who died with his girlfriend Chloe – when she appeared to address some of her comments to the absent Hashem Abedi.

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.

Figen Murray
Figen Murray

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.”

Mrs Murray said Mr Hett had a farewell party with family the weekend before he died, ahead of a planned two-week trip around America.

She said: “Little did we know it was to be our final goodbye.”

Hashem Abedi 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 on the night of May 22 2017.

Salman Abedi
Salman Abedi

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.

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.

CCTV of Salman Abedi making his way to Manchester Arena
CCTV of Salman Abedi making his way to Manchester Arena

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.

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”.

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