The brother of the Manchester Arena bomber Salman Abedi has sacked his legal team and declined to participate in his murder trial any further, 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Hashem Abedi was not present in court as the Old Bailey jury was informed that he had “withdrawn” from the case, dispensing with his entire defence team, including lead counsel Stephen Kamlish QC, six weeks into the trial.
It meant there was no closing defence speech while prosecutor Duncan Penny QC was restricted to outlining some of the key questions they wanted to put to Abedi, had he given evidence.
In a closing statement lasting barely an hour, Mr Penny suggested Abedi was central to the bomb plot, described the defendant as “at times chauffeur, at times quartermaster, at times electrical technician”.
He said: “I suggest the simple reason why he is absent from the witness box, his presence would have quickly revealed he stood shoulder to shoulder with his brother, steeped in responsibility for his conduct.”
He added: “The simple truth is, he was a willing and skilled accomplice, acting at all times with his brother to bring about the common goal.”
It fell to the judge, Mr Justice Jeremy Baker, to explain to jurors on Thursday afternoon why Abedi was no longer in the dock, and why the defence legal team benches were also empty.
He 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.”
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 courtroom 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 Mr Penny subsequently reeled off a series of questions he would have asked the defendant had he given evidence – describing Abedi’s refusal to appear in the witness box as “thundering silence”.
Mr Penny added: “This defendant had every opportunity to give his account of what took place.
We suggest that prepared statement is demonstrably riddled with lies.Duncan Penny QC
“To describe his surprise, to describe his disgust, to describe his shock when he woke to the news – not only had his older brother perpetrated this appalling act but in the process Salman had betrayed his own innocent kid brother by pulling the wool over young Hashem’s eyes in the most cynical of fashions.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we suggest this is nonsense. This defendant was together with his brother in this endeavour from start to finish and his reluctance to speak is testament to that fact.”
It meant Abedi’s defence was only advanced through a prepared statement given to police last summer after being extradited from Libya to face murder charges over the blast, during which he denied involvement and said he “could not comprehend” his brother’s actions.
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.
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.
The case is due to continue on Friday morning.