Lee Rigby murder trial: 'Great' Islam is not in trial, jurors told, as judge says nothing in Michael Adebolajo's evidence amounts to a murder charge defence

Prosecutor Richard Whittam says what the men did was 'indefensible in the law of this country'

John Hall
Tuesday 17 December 2013 18:09
Michael Adebolajo (left) and Michael Adebowale are accused of murdering Fusilier Rigby as he returned to barracks
Michael Adebolajo (left) and Michael Adebowale are accused of murdering Fusilier Rigby as he returned to barracks

Jurors in the case of two men accused of murdering soldier Lee Rigby have been told “Islam, one of the world's great religions, is not on trial”.

Muslim converts Michael Adebolajo, 29, and Michael Adebowale, 22, are accused of running Fusilier Rigby down with a car and then hacking him to death with a meat cleaver and knives near Woolwich barracks in south east London on May 22.

Prosecutor Richard Whittam QC told the jury at the Old Bailey what the men did was "indefensible in the law of this country".

But Adebolajo's defending counsel, David Gottlieb, said a proper charge for his client would have been "treason, terrorism, or maybe manslaughter".

Earlier in the day, Mr Justice Sweeney told the jury that nothing said by Adebolajo in his evidence amounts in law to a defence to the charge of murder.

He also told jurors that they were discharged from any further consideration of a count of conspiracy to murder a police officer. Both men deny remaining counts of murder and attempted murder of a police officer.

In his closing speech, Mr Whittam QC said: "It's important that I make it clear - Islam, one of the world's great religions, is not on trial, nor could it be."

Recounting the events of May 22 and the prosecution's case, Mr Whittam showed the jury once again images of bloodied knives, and also replayed the video clip in which Fusilier Rigby is seen being hit by a Vauxhall Tigra.

"What was the consequence of driving into Lee Rigby?" asked Mr Whittam. "The consequence was it broke his back.

He went on: "What was the purpose of what they have done, killing Lee Rigby in the way they had done, in putting the body there and staying at the scene?

"To borrow a phrase from the first defendant - carnage."

Mr Whittam turned to the charge of attempted murder of a police officer and described the defendants' actions when police arrived at the scene.

He told the jury not to be "seduced by suggestions that the sole objective was to commit suicide".

Describing Adebolajo's movements, the prosecutor said: "He had a meat cleaver, a weapon that needed to have direct contact. He raised the weapon above his head and got very close to the vehicle."

Describing Adebowale's movements, he said: "Did he run straight at the vehicle to be caught? He ran along the wall. Why? To draw fire."

Finishing his speech, Mr Whittam said: "What these two men did, crashing their car and breaking the back of Lee Rigby and then killing him is indefensible in the law of this country."

He went on: "Killing to make a political point, to frighten the public, to put pressure on the Government or as an expression of anger is murder and remains murder whether the government in question is a good one, a bad one or a dreadful one."

In his closing speech, Mr Gottlieb said: "All deaths outside of lawful deaths are cruel, needless and unnecessary.

"Do you think really that this is the cruellest, most sadistic, most callous, most cowardly killing that's ever occured in our nation's history? It isn't."

Mr Gottlieb asked the jury to consider whether the prosecution had put their case on the basis that it was "cowardly and callous" to "enflame" or "distract" them from the view that the death "must be murder and nothing else".

He told jurors the proper charge for Adebolajo would have been "treason, terrorism, or maybe manslaughter".

Earlier, Mr Gottlieb quoted from a poem by First World War poet Edmund Blunden, called Report On Experience, and told the jury that religion had been a "red herring" in the case.

The defending barrister also suggested that Adebolajo was "the most law- abiding terrorist in the history of this country" as his client paid for a parking ticket moments before the alleged murder took place.

Mr Gottlieb later explained that he was using a "Sherlock Holmes" approach, adding: "When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."

Mr Gottlieb told the jury that they "genuinely have a choice" to acquit his client, and that they will be under pressure "from outside, from the mob, from the world, to convict". He said that the prosecution case "lacks any sense of proportion or of ridiculousness".

Turning to the attempted murder charge, he said it is "possibly the most ridiculous charge ever put before a judge and jury in the history of this country".

He claimed that the prosecution has no satisfactory explanation as to why Adebolajo told a witness to stay back "when the police and the soldiers get here".

The jurors were then played part of the film clip of Adebolajo with bloodied hands, but with no sound.

Mr Gottlieb said that a woman who walked past him as he spoke was clearly not afraid of him.

He said there were unarmed police near the scene, but Adebolajo chose to wait for armed teams, which would not fit with an intention to kill an officer.

The barrister went on to tell the panel of eight women and four men that the issue of what motivated Adebolajo "raises awkward questions" for the UK's political leaders.

He said: "A person, a human being, can do the most evil act in the world and not actually be evil themselves."

The prosecution could not accept that Adebolajo may have been motivated by "a noble idea", and he had attacked "a symbol of the state", Mr Gottlieb said.

Additional reporting PA