Parents of Manchester terror victims say 'we have the life sentence' as bomber's brother caged for at least 55 years
HEARTBROKEN parents of Manchester terror attack victims today said "we have the life sentence" as the bomber's brother was caged for at least 55 years.
Hashem Abedi, 23, played an "integral part" in helping his jihadi brother source shrapnel used in the bomb that tore through the Manchester Arena in 2017.
The blast killed 22 people including an eight-year-old girl and left hundreds of others injured as fans spilled out of an Ariana Grande concert.
Salman Abedi was killed in the terror attack, while ISIS fanatic Hashem was 2,000 miles away in Libya plotting further bloodshed around the world.
In March, he was convicted of 22 counts of murder, one count of attempted murder encompassing the injured survivors, and conspiring with his brother to cause explosions.
But the judge was powerless to impose a whole life sentence – meaning Abedi would die behind bars – as he was not over the age of 21 at the time the atrocity took place.
Instead, Abedi was today caged for life with a minimum of 55 years – minus two years for time spent in prison – for being "equally culpable" in the terror attack.
There were gasps and tears from families in the Old Bailey as Abedi – born and raised in Manchester – was told he "may never be freed".
Some afterwards told how they are serving a life sentence as Abedi prepares to stay behind bars until he is at least aged 75.
Figen Murray, whose son Martyn Hett, 29, was killed in the blast, told Sky News: "It's just a number and for me it's totally irrelevant. My energy is better directed to all the families and those who read victim impact statements.
"We are the ones with the life sentence."
Martyn's dad added: "No sentence can change things for us or what we have to go through."
While in a joint statement, the parents of sweethearts Chloe Rutherford, 17, and Liam Curry, 19, said: "As the families of Chloe and Liam, no sentence will reflect the loss we feel all day without them as he won't really be serving the same sentence we are."
The family of Kelly Brewster, 32, who died shielding her young niece in the blast, said: "His sentence will never compare to the sentence we have to live for the rest of our lives without Kelly.
"One day he will be free but we will forever be broken."
The shameless fanatic refused to face the victims' families in court and cowered in his cell as the judge praised their "tremendous dignity".
Sentencing, Mr Justice Baker added: "The despair and desolation of the bereaved families has been palpable.
"The stark reality is that these were atrocious crimes, deadly in their intent and appalling in their consequence."
Boris Johnson also condemned the attack after the sentencing today.
He said: "The Manchester Arena attack was a horrifying and cowardly act of violence which targeted children and families.
“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.
“My thoughts remain with the survivors, and with the friends and families of victims, who have shown remarkable courage and dignity."
The victims' families bravely read emotional statements detailing how they have been "destroyed" by the blast.
There were tears from some as they revealed their heartbreak three years on from the attack – including parents who have left their kid's bedrooms unchanged and others who still call their child for dinner.
Others have been left with life-changing injuries themselves and still suffer horrifying flashbacks of watching their children die in their arms in the carnage.
And those who survived spoke of being haunted guilt over not being able to stop the atrocity as it unfolded in front of them.
Georgina Callander's dad Simon read out a powerful statement saying he "wants to die" after his 18-year-old daughter was killed.
He said: "I walked the streets at night but I couldn't go out at day because everyone wants to come and talk.
"I don’t want to talk, I want to die.
"There have been many times since [the bombing] that if I had been near a gun I would be with her now.
"I will never get over Georgina’s death."
Caroline Curry wept as she told how her 19-year-old son Liam had helped organise his dad's funeral just months before the blast.
Paying tribute to her "other half", she also spoke about how she will never see her son marry his girlfriend Chloe Rutherford, 17, who also died in the attack.
She also held up a picture of her tragic son as she addressed Hashem.
Ms Curry 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."
Chloe's mum Lisa also read from an emotional statement as she revealed the Ariana Grande gig tickets had been a "Christmas present".
She said her "heart snapped" when she received the call about the deadly blast.
She said: "We are lost, we are devastated, we feel the overwhelming loss of our gorgeous girl.
"As a family, we feel our loss every day."
Lisa also wept as she told how the family need answers as they are "destroyed".
Figen Murray, whose son Martyn Hett, 29, was killed, said: "I still cannot go to bed before 11pm, it’s this 10.31 thing.
"I was asleep in bed when my son was dead on the floor, I’m still deeply ashamed of that and I probably always will be."
She also spoke fondly of her talented son and Coronation Street superfan who revelled in the spotlight.
A joint statement was also read out from the family of 14-year-old victim Nell Jones.
It read: "The grief of losing a child is like no other – it is all consuming.
"The pain is with us every day, it wraps around us until it suffocates us."
In another emotional statement, Samantha Leczkowski revealed her 14-year-old daughter Sorrell's bedroom hasn't changed since the day she left for the gig.
Claire Booth, whose sister Kelly Brewster was killed as she heroically shielded her 12-year-old niece, told how she still suffers PTSD.
She said: "[My daughter] remembers in detail what happened that night and is devastated at being in a wheelchair.
"I struggle with feelings of guilt that I had to leave Kelly to die alone in that awful place.
"I tried to keep Kelly in my eyeline for as long as possible…but I couldn't be with her as she lay alone on that cold floor.
"Our family has been dragged into a world of terrorism and criminality which is a world away from what we have ever known."
While the dad of 45-year-old Michelle Kiss said: "We believe there is more good in the world than bad but unfortunately it only takes one bad person to devastate and destroy so many lives."
Hashem's full role in the atrocity was revealed by police after the unanimous verdicts were given – with Hashem said to be "every bit as responsible" as his brother.
And chillingly, it emerged he may have been the ringleader in the murderous plot all along.
The sadistic brothers spent months hatching the bloodbath – using bank accounts of pals to buy chemicals online.
They also raided their mum's £550-a-week benefit payments, which she continued to receive after she left the UK for Libya, to buy tools.
The pair flew back to Libya when friends noticed signs they had been radicalised but just days before the attack, Salman Abedi returned to Manchester.
Haunting CCTV caught him skulking around the arena at a Take That gig on a practice run.
And Hashem Abedi, a former electronics student, continued advising him by phone — and is believed to have been the last person he spoke to when he stopped at a bench on his way to the gig.
Salman later left for the nearby Arndale shopping centre where he bought batteries and a blue Kangol suitcase so he could move his bomb-making equipment to the flat he rented in Manchester city centre.
He was then caught in chilling CCTV images with a rucksack packed with thousands of nuts just 19 seconds before the deadly blast.
Salman Abedi waited for around an hour in the Manchester Arena foyer before parents and children left the gig at 10.30pm.
One minute later, he detonated the bomb as 359 people stood in the City Room – with 19 declared dead at the scene.
Among debris found after the blast were 1,675 nyloc nuts, 156 flanged nuts, 663 plain nuts and 11 fragments from Salman Abedi and his victims.
There were also screws recovered by investigators but they were so damaged they couldn't be counted.
Images shown to jurors also feature charred clothing recovered from the scene and labels from vegetable oil used to make the bomb.
Other debris included fragments from a money tin decorated with the design of a £5 note also used to maim innocent gig-goers.
The youngest victim, Saffie-Rose Roussos, eight, suffered more than 70 external injuries, with 17 metal nuts in her body, and died from blood loss due to multiple injuries.
Jurors also heard Salman Abedi's body was later recovered in four parts and he had to be identified by his DNA and fingerprints.
Forensic investigators later found more than 2,000 nuts from the homemade bomb at the scene.
TIMELINE OF TERROR
KEY dates leading up to the bomb blast:
January 18 – Hashem Abedi begins ordering components for the deadly explosive after his parents move back to Libya
February 19 – The brothers rent a flat in the north of the city so they can begin stockpiling ingredients for the bomb
March 20 – An email address, [email protected] – meaning 'to slaughter we have come' – is set up to order chemicals.
April 13 – The brothers buy a white Nissan Micra for £230 on Gumtree to store bomb-making items
April 15 – They both leave for Libya with their parents, who were visiting the UK, and Salman receives a £2,000 student loan grant
May 18 – Salman arrives back in Manchester and visits the arena before buying batteries, bulbs, tape, cable and a suitcase
May 19 – He picks up the items from the Micra and stores them in his suitcase before purchasing more equipment for the bomb – including a backpack, money tin to house the explosive and 5,000 metal nuts
May 20 – Salman purchases more than 4,000 screws and nuts and a five-litre paint tin from B&Q and Screwfix
May 22 – He detonates the bomb in the foyer of the area at 10.31pm – killing 22 people and injuring hundreds of others
June 1 – The Nissan Micra is discovered in Manchester containing acid, bags and boxes of nails, traces of explosives, and Hashem's fingerprints
November 1 – A formal extradition request for Hashem is made by the UK to Libya
July 17 – Hashem is extradited back to the UK and later interviewed by cops where he denies involvement
February 4 – He goes on trial at the Old Bailey accused of murdering 22 people
March 17 – Hashem is convicted of 22 counts of murder, one count of attempted murder encompassing the remaining injured, and one count of conspiring with his brother in the bomb blast
August 19 – A two-day sentencing hearing begins
After the blast, Hashem Abedi denied he was an extremist but the court heard his DNA was discovered in a Nissan Micra used to store packs of nails for the bomb.
Salman Abedi was captured in CCTV footage returning to the car after his Take That "practice run" four days before the terror attack.
The brothers were born in Manchester to Libyan parents and booked one-way tickets the country in April 2017 after stockpiling chemicals used to make the homemade explosive.
Salman Abedi then returned to his native Manchester on May 18 to carry out the atrocity.
Hashem repeatedly denied any knowledge of his brother’s plot and suggested he had been conned into believing the bomb parts were for household use.
He was arrested by Libyan authorities soon after the attack but an extradition bid proved difficult because of the civil war raging in the North African country.
The Sun on Sunday revealed the extradition bid cost UK taxpayers £123,000.
He then refused to defend himself at trial and stopped attending court – remaining absent from the dock as the verdicts were delivered in March.
Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, Ian Hopkins, said: “Today marks the end of a three year quest for justice, following one of the worst terrorist attacks this country has seen, and one of the darkest days in our city’s history.
“Of course, for the families and friends of those twenty two souls whose lives were brutally cut short that night in May 2017, the pain will never fully diminish.
“I know that no sentence will ever make amends for their loss, nor the suffering of the more than 1,000 people injured – many seriously or left with deep psychological wounds – who continue to live with the effect of this cowardly attack.
“I can only hope it brings some small measure of comfort to them that Abedi will spend the vast majority of the rest of his life behind bars – where he belongs."
Slater and Gordon lawyer Victoria Higgins, acting on behalf of 12 of those killed in the arena bombing, said: “This is the end of one chapter for those affected by this terrible atrocity.
"The families have waited a long time to see this man brought to justice and facing a life sentence for his crimes.
“The next phase is about to begin for our clients with the start of the long awaited public inquiry.
"We are glad to have the criminal process dealt with so we can now look towards getting the answers our clients desperately need and to better understand what happened, why it happened, what went wrong and how can we learn from this tragic event.”
A public inquiry into the bombing is scheduled to start next month.
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