Convicted terrorist killed two after string of failings, attack inquest told

Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones
Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones - (Copyright PA Media)
15:53pm, Fri 16 Oct 2020
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A convicted terrorist killed two young people at Fishmongers’ Hall following a string of failings, from officer training to a lack of “rudimentary” bag checks, a court has heard.

Usman Khan, 28, stabbed Cambridge University graduates Saskia Jones, 23, and Jack Merritt, 25, during a prisoner rehabilitation event near London Bridge on November 29 last year.

Two other women, named in court as Isobel Rowbotham and Stephanie Szczotko, were injured in the attack.

Khan, who was armed with two knives and wore a fake suicide vest, was tackled by members of the public with a narwhal tusk, a decorative pike and a fire extinguisher.

The attacker, who had been living in Stafford, was then shot dead by police on London Bridge.

A toxicology test later showed Khan had been an occasional cocaine user in the period before his death, the Old Bailey was told.

Usman Khan - (Copyright PA Media)

A full inquest, due to start at the Old Bailey on April 12 next year, will examine how the terror attack happened and if it could have been stopped.

At a pre-inquest hearing on Friday, a lawyer for Mr Merritt’s family suggested there is already evidence of a “systemic problem”.

Nick Armstrong said: “In this case already on the material that has been produced, we have all the Prevent officers from Staffordshire saying they had no specific training in handling terrorist offenders.

“It was handed over by West Midlands Counter Terrorism Unit to the Staffordshire unit for reasons that remain to be explored and all of them are saying they have no specific training.”

Henry Pitchers QC, for Ms Jones’s family, said the question is not whether Prevent or probation knew there was a risk but whether they “should have had an inkling”.

Mr Pitchers pointed out that Khan had been assessed as the “highest level of risk” and had 22 licence conditions on his release.

He said police officers made their last unannounced visit on November 14 2019, just over two weeks before the attack.

They found his flat to be dark, Khan was not happy about photos being taken of his Xbox games and wanted to speak to his solicitor, Mr Pitchers said.

There was no security check on the door, not even a rudimentary bag check

Khan was unemployed, lived alone and his mentoring had ceased, which was “hardly a reassuring profile”, the lawyer added.

Mr Pitchers went on to question security around the Learning Together event at Fishmongers’ Hall.

“We know from the evidence his attendance to this event was expressly authorised. It was not slipping between the conditions,” he said.

He said those who gave permission did nothing to notify Scotland Yard, City of London Police, the Fishmongers’ Company or the organisers of the Learning Together event.

Mr Pitchers added: “There was no security check on the door, not even a rudimentary bag check.”

During the hearing, the victims’ family lawyers also resisted any attempt for their inquests to be heard together with Khan’s.

Mr Pitchers said it would be a “source of real, significant and persistent distress throughout the course of the inquest” if the coroner agreed to requests for involvement on behalf of Khan’s mother Parveen Begum.

Earlier, Mrs Begum’s lawyer Jude Bunting had abandoned an attempt to have the inquests joined but asked that she be given “interested party” status in the victims’ inquest.

Placards and photos on London Bridge for the victims of the London Bridge terrorist attack - (Copyright PA Archive)

He told the court: “Mrs Begum was deeply shocked by the events of November 29. It was a tragedy Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones were killed.

“As a mother herself, Mrs Begum still finds it hard to believe such terrible damage could be caused by her son.”

She offered her sympathies to the families of the victims, he said.

Mr Bunting said the family were “not aware of Usman Khan’s mindset or intentions”.

He said they want to understand how it happened and ensure “lessons are learned” so no-one has to go through the anguish that the victims’ loved ones have suffered.

Mr Bunting added that the Khan family have no intention to attend the inquests unless called as witnesses.

Jonathan Hough QC, counsel for the coroner, said the families of the victims could “legitimately have concerns” if Khan’s family are given interested party status.

Chief coroner Mark Lucraft QC said he will give his ruling in writing before a further pre-inquest review.

During the hearing, attended by the Merritt and Jones families, the coroner called a one-minute silence in memory of the victims.

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