Last week was the fourth week of the inquest into the deaths of two young people murdered at Fishmongers Hall, London by convicted terrorist Usman Khan. Khan was under state supervision after release from prison at the time of the attack on 29 November 2019. Please see here for the week three summary of this case.
Each week, as well as a summary of the main developments, I am also looking at aspects of the inquest that may be of interest to our international readers. This week I am focusing on the issue of anonymity for witnesses.
An inquest of this nature will always involve testimony from members of the police and security service (MI5) who work in sensitive areas of national security and who prefer to remain anonymous. The Coroner must consider such applications and rule on whether and how anonymity is allowed balanced against the need for open justice. Several applications were made for anonymity for this inquest, including to protect an intelligence officer from being identified for fear of reprisals by terrorists. In this case after carefully weighing up the evidence, the Coroner decided that the intelligence officer must be screened from all in the court, including the jury and the counsel for the families and Khan. In his ruling he said, ‘Balancing the effects on open justice against the interests protected by screening, I consider that such screening is justified.’ Other witnesses, including Khan’s mentors who worked with him after his release from custody have also been afforded anonymity for the same reason. Anonymity does not by itself affect the quantity and quality of information that can be disclosed either in the inquest or by the media. That is governed by the Public Interest Immunity applications and other laws dealt with last week.
Key events from last week:
- A statement was read out at the inquest on behalf of the mother of one of Khan’s victims, Saskia Jones. It is usual for the parents or loved ones of people deceased in such circumstances to be allowed to present a ‘pen picture’ of victims at the opening of an inquest. In this case, however, Michelle Jones was providing additional evidence about her daughter in relation to attending the event and her daughter’s views on terrorist offenders. Mrs Jones stated that Saskia was undecided about whether to attend the Fishmongers Hall event until the evening before (28th November). She also stated that ‘I had several conversations with Saskia about her feelings towards the treatment of ex−offenders. She believed that there should be a distinction between terrorists and other ex−offenders. Saskia thought that different mindsets existed between the two categories, and that the treatment of both should be approached differently. Her view in relation to terrorist offenders was that although they should be given an opportunity to change, they should be more closely monitored, with extreme caution. She was not naïve in her approach, despite her desire to see the good in people.’
- Ieva Cechaviciute, a forensic psychiatrist working at HMP Whitemoor, the High Security Prison that Khan was held in until shortly before her release was questioned at the inquest. Ms Cechaviciute conducted interviews with Khan in three sessions in January 2018. The purpose of these sessions was to prepare an extremism risk evaluation in advance of his release from prison. She recalled her concerns after these sessions when she reported them to the prison group responsible for his risk management; ‘Just the thought of him being released, knowing the conclusions of my assessment, I was very worried.’ A report shown to the inquest contained this warning from her to the prison authorities; ‘Mr Khan has made little progress whilst in prison. He doesn’t understand his own risk and being imprisoned has made him a greater risk by elevating his profile. He still refuses to accept responsibility for his crime.’ The crime referred to here was his conviction in 2010 of terror offences including a plot to bomb the London Stock Exchange.
- Ken Skelton, who was Khan’s offender manager from May 2017 until the time of the attack in November 2019 was shown to have authorised Khan’s trip to the Fishmongers Hall event from his home address unaccompanied and unsupervised. Mr Skelton insisted that the decision must have been a group decision taken by the Multi Agency Public Protection (MAPPA) team that he was part of along with other local agencies in Stoke, where Khan was released to under state supervision. Mr Skelton was asked by Counsel for the inquest: ‘Were you aware over the time that you were dealing with Usman Khan in 2019 that he was the subject of an MI5 investigation joint with counter−terrorism police?’ He replied, ‘No, not at all.’
This week’s witnesses include the Director of the High Security and Long Term prison Estate who was the line manager of the Governor of HMP Whitemoor where Khan was held for most of his sentence and where he joined the Learning Together course and first encountered his victims