The two religious fanatics who murdered Lee Rigby screamed a final act of defiance in court on Wednesday as they fought with guards and were dragged from the dock prior to receiving a whole-life and life sentence respectively for their “sickening and pitiless” killing of the 25-year-old soldier.
The pair were restrained and wrestled to the ground before being taken down to the cells. Their cries had been a retaliation to the judge's conclusion that their barbaric act had been a “betrayal of Islam”.
In dramatic scenes Michael Adebolajo shouted “Allahu Akbar” meaning “God is the Greatest” before being told he would die behind bars while Michael Adebowale joined the outburst, saying that “ Britain and America would never be safe”. The pair were restrained and wrestled to the ground before being taken down to the cells.
As banging and shouting from the guilty pair could still be heard from the cells below court number two at the Old Bailey in London, Mr Justice Sweeney said the 29-year-old Adebolajo had “no prospect of rehabilitation” as he handed him the ultimate sentence available.
22-year-old Adebowale’s defence team said a whole-life sentence would have been “inhuman” and he was given a life sentence to serve a minimum of 45 years - saved from a whole-life tariff because of his age.
WARNING: graphic footage
Lee Rigby’s family were visibly distressed at the violent culmination of the lengthy legal process. Mr Justice Sweeney said the killers had “gloried” in their barbaric act in stark contrast to the “compassion and bravery” of the women at the scene who tended to his body.
In the killers' absence, Mr Justice Sweeney said: “You, Adebolajo, were the leader of this joint enterprise, albeit that Adebowale played his part enthusiastically. It was you who provided much, if not all, of the equipment and the car, and you were the mouthpiece on the day. You handed out a preprepared written statement seeking to justify your joint cause and actions. In addition, carrying the bloodied cleaver in your equally bloody hands, and knowing that you were being filmed, you made a political statement.
“Your sickening and pitiless conduct was in stark contrast to the compassion and bravery shown by the various women at the scene who tended to Lee Rigby’s body and who challenged what you had done and said.”
In a statement read outside court on their behalf Lee Rigby’s family welcomed the verdict, saying: “We believe justice has been done for Lee.”
Adebolajo now joins the list of the nation’s most infamous killers, including Moors Murderer Ian Brady, Rose West, and the Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe.
The sentencing had been delayed while a decision was made on whether whole life tariffs meaning prisoners will never be released can still be made. It followed a ruling in Strasbourg last year by the European Court of Human Rights that said whole life sentences had to be reviewed at some point.
A panel of five judges, including the most senior judge in England and Wales, Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas, declared last week that sentencing judges can continue to impose whole-life tariffs for the very worst crimes paving the way for today’s verdict.
Victim statements from Lee Rigby’s family read out in court all described the “irreparable” damage his murder had wrecked on their lives.
Rebecca Rigby, the mother of Fusilier Rigby’s child, said Lee would "never be forgotten”. In her impact statement, read out by the prosecution, Mrs Rigby described the moment when she heard what had happened last May.
She said: “I was also suddenly living in the public gaze. I couldn’t go anywhere or do anything, I felt like I didn’t want to go on. I saw people nudging and looking at me if I walked down the street. I know that my son will grow up and see images of his dad that no son should have to endure and there’s nothing I can do to change this.”
Mrs Rigby, who had separated from Mr Rigby before his death, said the pair had discussed “the dangers of Afghanistan” and braced themselves for it “but you do not expect to see this on the streets of the United Kingdom”.
She added that she had received overwhelming support from all over the world following the murder. She said: “Lee will never be forgotten and we love him and miss him every day.”
The court also heard part of a statement from the soldier’s stepfather, Ian Rigby, who arrived at the Old Bailey with other family members, including his wife and Fusilier Rigby’s mother Lyn, and sisters Sara McClure and Chelsea Rigby, wearing black t-shirts bearing the soldier’s picture with the message “Justice for Lee Rigby”.
Mr Rigby said: “After all he had been through in Afghanistan all Lee was doing was just walking through London. Just seeing on the television and seeing the violence of it you just can't comprehend. You take it all in and it doesn't click in your head, it is like being somewhere else. You’re watching it without being actually there.”
Prosecutor Richard Whittam QC said that the family’s lives had been devastated. He said: “The scale of the impact on them of the nature of the murder of Lee Rigby in the circumstances made so public during the trial and after such a killing causing a son to predecease his parents and stepfather and leave those others who loved him without a husband or a soulmate is too obvious to set out in detail.
“He had a young son. All their lives have been irreparably changed for the worse.”
Several family members of the murdered soldier shook their heads as they heard Adebolajo’s defence barrister David Gottlieb argue for leniency. Mr Gottlieb said that although Fusilier Rigby’s murder had “shocked the whole nation… whole-life terms can never be justified”. He said that tariff would “likely create a martyr” adding Lee Rigby, from Middleton, Rochdale, was targeted solely because he was a member of the armed forces and that “no one else was hurt”.
Adebolajo’s only regret was that the armed police who arrived at the scene did not kill him, the court heard. Mr Gottlieb said: “ There’s evidence he can be rehabilitated now, not much evidence, but some evidence… He should not in these circumstances be deprived of any hope of release.”
Adebowale’s barrister said a whole life sentence for the 22-year-old would be “inhuman, extinguishing all hope of release”. The plea prompted further derisory reactions from the family.
Protestors scuffled with City of London police outside the Old Bailey today in the moments leading up to the sentencing. Far right extremists brought portable gallows and chanted for the men to be hanged.
Adebowale and Adebolajo had been found guilty in December of killing Lee Rigby, 25, as he walked back to the Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich, south-east London, on 22 May last year. They drove into the young soldier at 40mph as he was crossing the road opposite the barracks after spotting him wearing a Help for Heroes hooded top. They then dragged his body into the middle of the road and attacked him with a meat cleaver, almost decapitating him as shocked members of the public looked on.
Adebolajo, a married father of six, was filmed saying that the attack was: “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”
During their trial at the Old Bailey, Adebowale, from Greenwich, south-east London, offered no evidence in his defence, but Adebolajo, from Romford, Essex, gave a rambling testimony during which he told the jury he loved al Qaida and that as a “soldier if Allah” he had carried out the killing as revenge for the treatment of Muslims abroad.