ITV News Correspondent Martha Fairlie reports on the inquest
The UK’s most senior counter-terrorism officer has apologised to the families of those killed in the Fishmongers’ Hall attack in the wake of a damning inquest that found that the victims were killed unlawfully by a convicted terrorist after a string of failures by authorities.
Saskia Jones, 25, and Jack Merritt, 25, Merritt were fatally stabbed by Usman Khan at a Learning Together offender education alumni event on November 29 2019.
The jury criticised agencies involved in the management of Khan, saying there was “unacceptable management, a lack of accountability and deficiencies in management by Mappa (multi-agency public protection arrangements)”.
The family of Ms Jones launched a blistering attack on event organisers, accusing them of “scant regard” for safety.
Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu said he is “deeply sorry” for the omissions and failures that meant opportunities to stop convicted terrorist Usman Khan were missed.
"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" - Saskia Jones' uncle reads a statement from the family following the verdict
Khan, 28, who wore a fake bomb vest, was tackled by delegates armed with a narwhal tusk and a fire extinguisher, and driven out onto London Bridge where he was shot dead by police.
An inquest at the Guildhall in London heard that Khan had been released from prison 11 months earlier under strict licence conditions and was under investigation by counter-terrorism police and MI5.
But the “manipulative and duplicitous” terrorist hid his murderous intent from those tasked with keeping the public safe, the hearing was told.
The jury found the victims had been “unlawfully killed” and confirmed basic facts surrounding their deaths.
Statement from Commodore Toby Williamson CEO of Fishmongers' Hall
Ms Jones' family said in a statement: "We were particularly concerned after hearing the evidence given by the Learning Together directors, which allowed an insight to their attitude and the seemingly scant regard they had for the fundamental safety of their staff, volunteers and attendees at the event at Fishmongers’ Hall.
"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.
"It seems there was no intent on their part to listen or take notice of what they were dealing with in working with such a high-risk individual.
"Learning Together declined an opportunity to learn more about Usman Khan and his risk factors."
Usman Khan: A timeline of events to the Fishmongers' Hall attack
"This may have contributed to a failure to take account of the steps necessary to protect the safety and wellbeing of everyone involved. This view appears to have remained unchanged despite the events at Fishmongers’ Hall in November 2019.
"Their refusal when giving evidence adequately to review past behaviours within their organisation and to consider that they may have done things differently is astounding and insulting to the family."
Mr Basu said: “Over the past 20 years, we have worked to ensure that increasing numbers of individuals who pose a threat of serious harm are both identified and imprisoned before they can carry out terrorist attacks.
“But in recent years, as some of these individuals reached the end of their sentences, we’ve realised that the way in which terrorist offenders were managed could be improved.
“And we had identified this and were making changes before the attack took place.
“But the terrible events on November 29 2019 have only served to ensure that we’ve redoubled our efforts. And since then, the government has changed the law."
ITV News Global Security Editor Rohit Kachroo reports on the failures from agencies
The family were also critical of state agencies involved in counter-terrorism.
"Whilst we appreciate where witnesses have reviewed their part and accepted where failings occurred, it has been unsavoury and distressing to hear a number of witnesses trying to avoid proper consideration of their part in the death and injury of innocent people," the statement said.
"The apparent unwillingness of some of those involved in the management of Usman Khan and organisation of the event at Fishmongers’ Hall on November 29 2019 to take any responsibility and show some remorse in the presence of the family, has been very frustrating and ultimately distressing for us."
Dave Merritt, Jack's father, criticised the Mappa process, saying: “Roles and responsibilities were unclear, communication between the agencies was inadequate and leadership and co-ordination were weak.”
He continued: “The probation and police teams directly responsible for Khan’s supervision were staffed by officers with little or no experience of terrorism offenders.
“The security services and West Midlands counter-terrorism police were complacent and passive in the face of Khan’s extreme and continuing threat.”
Dave Merritt gives a statement after the verdict
Mr Merritt added: “We welcome the changes implemented by the Probation Service in the management of terrorism offenders post-release – specialist teams with a focus on terrorism, smaller caseloads, specialist training and experienced officers, and with access to psychological analysis of offenders as necessary.
“We hope that all other agencies and organisations involved with Khan will learn the lessons highlighted by the inquest and will make changes to their systems and working practices as appropriate.”
The forewoman read a short statement on behalf of the jury addressing the victims’ families.
She said: “The jury would like to send their heartfelt condolences to the families of Saskia and Jack, and to all who love and miss these two wonderful young people.
“They clearly touched the lives of so many, ours included.
“We wanted to convey to the families how seriously we have taken our collective responsibility. How important this is to us, how much their children matter.”
She continued: “We also wanted to take this opportunity to thank the astonishing individuals who put themselves in real danger to help, and our incredible emergency services for their response both that day and every day.
“Once again to the families, we are so incredibly sorry.
“The world lost two bright stars that dreadful day.”