In an exclusive interview with GMB, John Crilly spoke about the terrifying moment he faced down terrorist Usman Khan on London Bridge last November.
John bravely confronted Khan who stabbed five people, two fatally, believing he had an explosive device strapped around his belt. The attacker had been released from prison in 2018 on licence after serving a sentence for terrorist offences.
Speaking to Kate Garraway and Ben Shephard John said: “The way it gets portrayed it seems more like a bit of an action movie. It seems so surreal.”
John went on to explain that he is haunted by the experience saying that "people lost their lives who shouldn't have."
John was attending Cambridge University's 'Learning Together' prison-rehabilitation scheme at Fishmongers' Hall on the day of the attack, which Khan's victims Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones helped organise.
Looking back, John said: “The day was just a celebration of the 'Learning Together' scheme, that has been running. Because it is spread so far up and down the country, it was a chance for everyone to come together."
“The critical part of [the scheme] is for the people in prison who have never experienced that kind of education or interacted with those kind of educated people.”
When he first realised there was a serious problem, John said: “It all happened so quickly. All of a sudden a load of noise started… we could hear screaming and female voices. Initially, it wasn’t clear if it was horse-play or messing about, within a few seconds it got more intense and there was no doubting something was afoot downstairs.”
Quizzed on when he picked up the fire-extinguisher to help defend himself, he explained: “The fire-extinguisher was near the end. We were fighting inside, for [it] couldn’t have been that long, it seemed like about ten minutes, five minutes. Initially, I was on my own with a lectern.
“The lady was behind me on the stairs and Usman [Khan] was on the other side of me with his knives. I was looking for something to defend myself with. There was nothing there apart from pictures on the walls.”
At this point, he picked up a lectern to try and fend off the attacker. He said they were shouting at each other and he asked: “What do you think you’re doing?”
John went on: “He didn’t say much, the only thing I remember him saying was about the belt. He was waiting for the police before he blew it.”
John’s case worker, Jan Cunliffe, who was also on the show agreed with Kate and Ben that John is a hero. She said: “One he is a hero. He went through 13 years of prison and got through that and got a law degree and helped other prisoners… but for this to happen as well and to go out there and try to save other people’s lives. John was convicted of murder, so people thought he was a murderer but in fact, he’s not he’s a life saver. He saved lives that day.”
She added the government hadn’t yet thanked John for what he did that day on the bridge.
Speaking about Jack Merritt, John said: “I had known Jack four or five years by then… over the years we had got really close.”
On his life in prison, he added: “I have done a lot of prison, in and out, as a petty criminal before I got locked up for a serious offence. But I’m sick of seeing people in jail wasting away who have amazing talent.”
On terrorists’ sentences, he said: “Whatever you have done right or wrongly, you should get a proportionate sentence to that.”
But said that after 15 years sentences stop being effective: “If you’ve not learnt after 10 to 15 years you are not going to learn… they [the long sentences] just make people angry.”