This weekly report summarises some of the main themes emerging from the inquest into the murder of Saskia Jones and Jack Merritt by an Islamist Terrorist in central London on 29th November 2019. It is significant because it will include an examination into the management of risk of terrorist offenders by all agencies through prison custody and on supervision in the community. This may have implications for how the U.K.’s terrorist and extremist risk management systems.
What are the basic facts?
On 29th November 2019, Usman Khan a convicted terrorist who had been released from prison but who was under state supervision in the community attended a conference in Fishmongers Hall, London. Khan was an invited guest to a celebratory event organised by ‘Learning Together.’ In the last year of his imprisonment in a High Security Jail, Khan became involved in this Cambridge University backed initiative. The Learning Together programme allowed prisoners and students to study together as part of a rehabilitation process. During the celebratory event, Khan attacked and fatally stabbed two young people who worked and volunteered for Learning Together, Saskia Jones and Jack Merritt. He injured other attendees. He was confronted and pursued by other members of the audience outside the building where he was shot dead by police on London Bridge some minutes later.
What is the purpose of an inquest?
An inquest is a judicial investigation into the circumstances of someone’s death. Most jurisdictions have similar arrangements for inquiry into unexplained or violent deaths. The inquest is led by a Coroner. A Coroner is an independent appointment by the Crown who is either legally or medically qualified or both. In the case of the Fishmonger Hall inquests, the former Chief Coroner, Mark Lucraft QC—who is also a judge—is presiding. This is because the Fishmongers Hall attack is of national importance. In fact, there will be three inquests. The Coroner has ordered that inquests into Saskia Jones and Jack Merritt will take place together because of the similarity of the circumstances. Khan’s inquest will take place last. An inquest is not a criminal trial and does not make findings of guilt or innocence for any party to the proceedings.
What will this inquest examine?
The Fishmongers Hall inquests are required to answer these questions in relation to the deceased victims and their deceased attacker:
1. the identity of the deceased;
2. the place of his / her death;
3. the date and time of death; and
4. how he / she came by their death.
The inquests began on 12th April and are expected to last for seven to eight weeks.
What is the significance of the jury?
Coroners have discretion to appoint juries to reach a verdict in certain cases to reach conclusions on the four questions above. In the case of Khan, because he died as a result of state action, a jury is mandatory. The Coroner can also appoint a jury after significant events where they feel there is legitimate public interest. Khan’s inquest will be heard by a new jury. The Coroner, after hearing the evidence, will give direction to the jury as to the format of their conclusions (verdict). In the case of question 4, this might be in the form or a ‘narrative’ conclusion. The Coroner has the power to write to people, agencies, or organisations following the conclusion of the inquest to draw to their attention any concerns he has identified and require them to respond with action to be taken.
What has happened so far in week one?
This week’s evidence has focused on the events immediately prior to and after Usman Khan attacked his victims. This has covered Khan’s trip from his home in the North of England to London and the graphic events when he taped knives to his hands in the venue’s toilets and began to attack other attendees. The inquest takes evidence from witnesses and these have included the armed response police officers who arrived at the scene and who discovered that Khan, then restrained on the ground by event attendees on London Bridge, was wearing what initially appeared to be a suicide bomb vest. It was later revealed to be a hoax. The transcripts contain a lot of technical detail but what also stands out is the bravery and professionalism of a whole range of people who confronted Khan and then battled desperately to save the lives of Saskia and Jack in an environment that was filled with chaos and panic where it was not immediately clear that Khan had acted alone.
Information of note.
This information is taken from the official transcript of the inquest, which is available in the public domain. The transcripts of the inquest available here: https://fishmongershallinquests.independent.gov.uk/documents/.
A prison intelligence assessment of Usman Khan referred to in evidence and dating from the beginning of August 2018 states that he is ‘one of the main extremists on the wing responsible for radicalising others and having close associations with other TACT [convicted terrorist] offenders…including Busthrom Ziamani who carried out a later attack in Whitemoor prison.’ Ziamani was convicted of the attempted murder of a prison officer in a terrorist attack in January 2020. Evidence shows that Khan’s involvement with Learning Together started in 2018.
The Coroner’s counsel has indicated that the inquest ‘will be considering the management and monitoring of Khan and whether his attack could have been prevented.’
One of the volunteer students who attended the Learning Together course at the High security Whitemoor prison stated he had no prior knowledge of Khan’s terrorist background. during his participation in the scheme.
Another witness working for Learning Together as a researcher stated that he had received no specific security awareness training and only knew of Khan’s terrorist conviction after an online search.
The inquest continues.