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Record sentence for Manchester Arena bomb plotter

GRIEVING families of the Manchester Arena bomb victims said justice had prevailed as the ‘cowardly mastermind’ behind the attack was handed a record prison sentence yesterday.

Relatives wept and embraced as Hashem Abedi, brother of suicide bomber Salman Abedi, was given a life term, with a minimum of 55 years behind bars, by a judge at the Old Bailey.

For the second successive day, 23-year-old Abedi refused to appear in court over the terrorist atrocity that claimed the lives of 22 people — many of them children — leaving an Ariana Grande pop concert on May 22, 2017. After the sentence was handed down, Ch Con Ian Hopkins, of Greater Manchester Police, said: ‘He’s going to have a very long time in a very small prison cell to reflect on his behaviour.’

Mr Hopkins described the Abedi brothers — both Islamist extremists — as ‘cowardly’ and ‘calculating murderers’, adding that Hashem ‘showed that in his contempt for the court proceedings and, by the end, just not turning up’.

‘He’s a coward’: Victims’ families outside the Old Bailey after Hashem Abedi (top) was sentenced yesterday PICTURES: PA

Mr Justice Jeremy Baker said he would have imposed a mandatory full-life term but was restricted because Abedi was under 21 when the attack was carried out. However, handing down the sentence, the judge said: ‘He may never be released.’

The judge said he took into account the brothers had deliberately targeted children, adding: ‘I am satisfied that it was their intention to specifically target this age group — an aim in which they tragically succeeded, as almost half of those killed in the explosion were either children or teenagers.’

He gave Abedi 24 concurrent life sentences for 22 murders, attempted murder and conspiring to cause an explosion likely to endanger life. The previous record sentence for a terrorist was the 50-year minimum term given to 1999 Soho nail-bomber David Copeland.

Abedi, of Fallowfield, Manchester, was found guilty by a jury in March. The trial heard his brother Salman, 22, detonated the suicide bomb in the arena foyer as thousands of men, women and children left the concert.

Caught on CCTV: Bomber Salman Abedi

The pair had spent months ordering and stockpiling the materials required for the attack, using multiple mobile phones, addresses and vehicles.

They joined their parents in Libya the month before the blast. Salman returned to Britain on May 18, leaving his brother behind in Libya. But Hashem was tracked down by British police and extradited last July.

Steve Goodman, whose 15-year-old granddaughter Olivia Campbell-Hardy died, said: ‘It’s justice for Manchester and justice for the survivors. But it will never bring our loved ones back.

‘We need to talk more about peace, we are educating the youth of all cultures that terrorism is not a thing to do, it’s not going to benefit them.’ Prime minister Boris Johnson welcomed the sentencing, describing it as ‘an opportunity to reflect on the importance of tolerance, community and kindness’.

He added: ‘I would also like to express my thanks to the police and all those who have worked tirelessly to deliver justice for the families.’

Jenny Hopkins, head of the CPS Special Crime and Counter Terrorism Division, said: ‘Abedi will spend the next five decades behind bars where he can’t harm others.’