Last week was the fifth 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 all the previous weekly summaries of this case.
Each week, as well as a summary of the main developments, I am also looking at aspects of the inquest process that may be of interest to our international readers.
In week one, I described the ‘narrative conclusion’ to an inquest which gives both the Coroner and/or the Jury more latitude than the standard short form conclusions—‘unlawful killing’, ‘accident or misadventure’ etc.—would allow. It is likely that given the complexity and profile of this case either or both parties will use this facility. Here is an example of part of a narrative verdict by the Coroner himself at the conclusion of an inquest into an earlier terrorist attack on London Bridge in 2017 in which eight members of the public were murdered by terrorists who used a combination of knives and vehicles to kill them:
‘At the time of the attack described above, there was no form of physical protective security on London Bridge, despite the fact that it was a location which was particularly vulnerable to a terrorist attack using a vehicle as a weapon. There were weaknesses in systems for assessing the need for such measures on the bridge and implementing them promptly.’
It is important to emphasise that the Coroner’s job is not to ascribe guilt or innocence, and no conclusion has yet been reached in respect of the current inquest.
This week’s hearings included witness examination of the Prison service’s Head of Probation at the time of the attack, Sonia Flynn, an intelligence officer from MI5, the U.K.’s domestic security agency, counterterrorism police officers, and staff from Prevent, the agency that safeguards those at risk of being drawn into violent extremism. All of these people had contact with Khan in person or in oversight roles as part of his risk management in the community prior to his attack.
Ms Flynn was asked about the possibility that the probation officer supervising Khan needed additional ‘hard-nosed’ support from counterterrorism officers because of the risk he posed. She replied, ‘one of the issues is our staff themselves can be groomed, can be manipulated and cannot see the risk of a very violent individual in front of them.’ Ms Flynn agreed with counsel that the probation officer assigned to Khan did not have the time or resources he should have had to manage his risk effectively. It also emerged that no specific risk assessment was carried out prior to Khan making his journey alone to Fishmongers Hall. Ms Flynn pointed out that her probation officer did not have information that the security services had but also did not share, including at multi agency risk management meetings, that Khan’s MI5 assessment had put his risk as ‘increasing’ in early 2019.
The MI5 witness gave evidence about the security service involvement with Khan and how her service interacted with the others monitoring Khan after his release from prison. Because of the security concerns described in last weeks blog, the intelligence officer, referred to only as ‘Witness A’ gave her evidence from behind a screen. Referring to the decision to allow Khan to travel alone to Fishmongers Hall, the officer stated that “At that time there was no intelligence that he should not be allowed to attend.” Khan had been under months of surveillance by MI5 after his release from prison—where he remained a ‘High Risk’ Category A prisoner until his release in December 2018. Witness A stated that MI5 supported the Police conclusion that the two Learning Together associates, Saskia Jones and Jack Merritt, were deliberately targeted for murder by Khan. Witness A confirmed that in early 2019, her service read a play Khan had written as part of a rehabilitation programme. The play’s script described a person released from a secure institution who goes on commit murders with knives and it then imagines the investigation afterwards. Witness A stated that the play did not ‘add or detract from the intelligence picture that we had at that time, which was that Khan may potentially re−engage in terrorist−related activities.’
The inquest continues and this week it will focus mainly on the operational response of the emergency services to Khan’s attack. The inquests for Saskia Jones and Jack Merritt are scheduled to conclude this week prior to the separate inquest into Khan’s death at the hands of responding police officers in the week following.