Terror on a Shopping Street: The Inquest into the Streatham High Road Incident – Final Week and Analysis

August 23, 2021
Ian Acheson  —  CEP Senior Advisor

This is the third in a series of briefings on events at the Inquest into the death of convicted terrorist Sudesh Amman. Full details of the circumstances of the Inquest and the highlights of weeks one and two are here.

The Inquest jury delivered its verdict last Friday. Not surprisingly it found, directed by the Coroner, that Sudesh Amman had been lawfully killed by police officers on 2nd February 2020, who were confronted by the released terrorist advancing towards them holding a knife he had already used to injure two shoppers.

Before he discharged the jury to reach their conclusion, the Coroner, Mr Justice Hilliard, asked them also to consider whether Amman’s attack could have been prevented if he had been recalled to prison following police observations that suggested he was collecting materials for a fake suicide belt.

The Coroner explained the background to the decision making process that the multi-agency risk management team (MAPPA) used to determine whether or not Amman’s recall to prison could be activated. He quoted the Prison and Probation Service guidelines, which said that recall should be considered if ‘ the person's behaviour indicates that they present an increased or unmanageable risk of serious harm to the public, or…there is an imminent risk of the person committing further offences.’ The standard of proof that should have been applied by authorities in coming to a decision was the ‘balance of probabilities’, a much lower bar than the criminal standard of ‘beyond reasonable doubt.’

The jury concluded that the attack could have been prevented if Amman was retuned to prison following the purchase of the fake suicide belt materials in the days before the attack and that failing to do so was a ‘missed opportunity.’ This contrasts with evidence from the police and HM Prison and Probation service personnel who argued that Amman’s behaviour did not breach his 20 licence conditions and they could not act merely on the basis of suspicion. Moreover, the police felt that revealing they had Amman under surveillance would escalate his risk in the event that breach proceedings failed. I think the public would not be reassured by this supine interpretation of rules designed to protect them from harm. 

The Inquest shone a light on an otherwise closed world inside our highest security prison, HMP Belmarsh, where Amman was held for all of his sentence. Lizzie Dearden, a journalist for the Independent who provides some of the most cogent analysis of our prison terror threat summarised his time in custody there which ended in automatic release just ten days before his attack:

‘While inside HMP Belmarsh, Amman had demonstrated a “loathing towards non-Muslims”, claimed he wated to kill the Queen, become a suicide bomber and join Isis, and said he wished he had been involved in the murder of Lee Rigby, Prison intelligence reports showed he associated with several high-profile terrorists, including the Manchester Arena bomber’s brother Hashem Abedi. He had been seen in “deep conversation” with the Parsons Green bomber, Ahmed Hassan, and was also linked with attack plotters Erol Incedal, Naa'imur Rahman and Umar Haque. Some of the terror offenders named at the inquest have since been moved to other prisons, where they are believed to be widening their associations.’

Hassan is one of four terrorists who have committed high profile and lethal attacks both inside prison and after custody within the last three years. In Amman’s case, he was deemed so dangerous that he was held on multiple occasions in the prisons High Security Unit—an impregnable jail within a jail for some of the most dangerous and predatory offenders in Western Europe. Yet, on his release, he was housed in a standard probation hostel run by a charity that had no counterterrorism training but was now to hold a ‘critical public protection’ case. The evidence presented to the jury simply reinforces the view that far from being an effective monitoring response, our existing multi-agency arrangements are mired in bureaucracy, naivete, timidity, poor communications, and confusion over primacy. Those same failures were exposed in the inquest last May on the Fishmongers Hall attack. I have written about that attack here. In both cases, the juries were critical of ‘serious deficiencies’ and ‘missed opportunities’

Whatever lessons are to be learned about the short life and violent death of Amman will be done largely behind closed doors. My concern is that politicians and senior officers across the agencies that failed to contain the threat of a terrorist until after he started his rampage will retreat, after review processes that amount to marking your own homework. If we want our terrorist risk management process to be as good as ‘an acceptable level of atrocity’ we should proceed with MAPPA and our fingers tightly crossed. We can and we must do better. I’m currently working on an alternative concept for terrorist and extremist offender management to replace MAPPA that I and other senior counterterrorism experts I am working with believe will radically improve our chances of spotting and stopping the harm. In the end, the responsibility for Amman’s death lies not with any agency but in his own murderous rage. The Coroner concluded his remarks accordingly:

‘Mr Amman was prepared to risk his life in order to try to murder other people. In stark contrast, throughout this operation, the Metropolitan Police surveillance teams were prepared to put themselves in harm's way in order to keep all of us safe, especially the team on 2 February 2020. That they are all to be commended for their bravery and they are owed a considerable debt of gratitude for what they did which I gladly acknowledge.’

Daily Dose

Extremists: Their Words. Their Actions.

Fact:

On September 17, 2019, a suicide bomber on a motorcycle detonated outside a Presidential rally in Charikar, Afghanistan, killing at least 26 people and injuring another 30. Later, a suicide bomber detonated outside the Ministry of Defense in Kabul, killing 22 and wounding 38 others. The Taliban claimed responsibility for both attacks. 

View Archive

CEP on Twitter