Warnings ignored as ‘poster boy’ terrorist freed to murder Cambridge students
- Credit: PA/family
Multiple failures and omissions contributed to the murders of Cambridge graduates Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23, at the hands of a convicted terrorist, an inquest jury concluded.
They felt that the terrorist’s ‘poster boy’ image blinded authorities to the threat he posed: Usman Khan launched an attack on Fishmongers’ Hall, London, killing both students.
Jack, from Cottenham, and Saskia had both been attending a criminology conference at the hall, arranged by the university.
Khan, 28, had known Jack previously through a prisoner rehabilitation programme at Whitemoor Prison, March.
It was pure chance Jack was the first person he encountered at the conference whom he stabbed repeatedly.
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Khan went on to stab Ms Jones once in the neck and injure three other people shouting "Allahu Akbar".
As he fled the hall armed with knives and a fake suicide vest, he was tackled by members of the public before being shot dead by police.
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Jack's mother Anne Merritt had earlier told the inquest how her son was a “force for good in the world".
Mrs Merritt had wept as she said: “Jack was a good person, someone who made other people’s lives better for knowing him.
“We are hugely proud of who Jack was and what he stood for. His death was a tragedy but his life was a triumph.”
After the inquest, Jack’s father Dave Merritt said the arrangements for managing Khan following his release from prison were "not fit for purpose".
He described MI5 and West Midlands Counter-Terrorism Police as "complacent and passive in the face of Khan's extreme and continuing threat".
Ms Jones' uncle Philip Jones said the event organisers Learning Together, a prisoner education programme, appeared to have "scant regard" for safety, while state agencies also shared responsibility.
On Learning Together, he said: "It could be said that their single-minded view of the rehabilitation of offenders, using Usman Khan, in our view, as a 'poster boy' for their programme, significantly clouded their judgment."
The inquest heard that Khan had been released from prison 11 months earlier under strict licence conditions.
But the "manipulative and duplicitous" terrorist hid his murderous intent from those tasked with keeping the public safe, the hearing was told.
He had even been described in court as a "poster boy" for Learning Together after jurors saw a "thank you" video message he had recorded.
The jury found the victims had been "unlawfully killed".
It concluded that failings in Khan's management in the community and information-sharing and guidance by agencies responsible for monitoring or investigating Khan contributed to the deaths.
Jurors also found that omissions or deficiencies in the organisation of the event at Fishmongers' Hall and its security contributed to the deaths.
In a narrative conclusion, the jury highlighted "unacceptable management and lack of accountability", "serious deficiencies in the management of Khan" by the multi-agency organisation responsible for public safety and "insufficient experience and training".
The jury added there was a "blind spot to Khan's unique risk due to a 'poster boy' image".
Khan had spent eight years in jail for plotting to set up a terror training camp in Pakistan.
Behind bars, he had become more dangerous amid incidents of violence and extremist bullying, jurors were told.
On his release in December 2018, he was assessed as being a "very high risk of serious harm" to the public.
MI5 had intelligence that Khan was planning to "return to his old ways" and aspired to carry out an attack.
Yet the information was not passed on by police to others involved in Khan's management; his risk was “low grade".
A proposal to allow Khan to travel unescorted to London for a Learning Together event was mooted at a multi-agency public protection arrangement meeting in August 2019.
Jurors heard there was no record of it being positively approved, although no-one raised any objections or discussed the risks.
In the final days before the killings, Khan bought a set of knives and assembled a fake suicide vest at his rented flat in Stafford.
The killing spree was in motion.