Fishmongers’ Hall terrorist Usman Khan’s fake suicide belt ‘looked like a real device’ inquest told 

An inquest jury for the victims of the Fishmongers’ Hall terror attack found ‘omission or failure’ in the management of Usman Khan in the community by MI5 and the police contributed to the deaths.

Asked to give a explanation for the conclusion, they issued a series of bullet points:

  • Unacceptable management and lack of accountability;
  • Serious deficiencies in the management of Khan by Mappa (Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements);
  • Insufficient experience and training;
  • Blind spot to Khan’s unique risks due to ‘poster boy’ image;
  • Lack of psychological assessment post-release from prison.

At the time of his release in 2018, Khan – a convicted terrorist – was assessed as being a ‘very high risk of serious harm’ to the public by a prison psychologist. 

MI5 had even passed on ‘uncorroborated’ intelligence to police that Khan was preparing to return to his ‘old ways’ and that he aspired to carry out an attack. But the Mappa panel was only told of the ‘old ways’ strand, which was labelled ‘low grade’, jurors were told.

MI5 and counter-terrorism police had also launched an investigation into Khan which was still ongoing at the time of the attack. However, Khan’s probation officer and the Mappa chairman were unaware of the probe.

A senior MI5 officer told the inquest jury that the intelligence service remained ‘sceptical’ about Khan’s compliance with his licence conditions following his release, but did not counsel caution.

One of Khan’s mentors recorded an incident when the terrorist became angry and then quickly covered it up. Only much later did the mentor describe being fearful at witnessing Khan with ‘hate’ in his eyes and ‘evil intent’.

The Mappa panel, made up of largely police and probation officers, met 12 times to discuss Khan’s case.

A plan for him to attend a Learning Together event in March 2019 was deemed ‘too soon’ and a dumper truck course was rejected due to incidents of terrorists using vehicles as weapons. However, in the summer of 2019, Khan was permitted an escorted appearance at a Learning Together event at Whitemoor prison.

When in August the proposed unescorted London event in November was put forward by the Probation Service, there was no record of it having been positively approved by Mappa. Jonathan Hough QC, for the coroner, suggested there was ‘a collective blind spot’ about the trip and its associated risks.

Panel chairman Nigel Byford said the decision should have been recorded in minutes but insisted no-one raised any objections about it at the time.

Sonia Flynn, executive director of the Probation Service, told jurors that the decision to allow the London trip should not have been left to one probation officer and there should have been a risk assessment.

Probation officers assigned to his case were ‘inexperienced’ in dealing with terrorism offenders, and did not have enough time to spend with Khan, it was claimed.

By September 2019, Khan was exhibiting some of warning signs raised by the prison psychologist in her report the year before. He had failed to find a job and was increasingly socially isolated, spending much of his time at home playing on his Xbox.

From the time Khan moved out of approved premises and into a rented flat, Prevent police officers visited him twice, spending just 18 minutes with him, the court heard.

The security services learned of the London trip in November 2019, just 11 days before the event. In her evidence, the senior MI5 officer conceded that a discussion around the risks at the joint operations team meeting ‘would have been helpful’.

But she said it would have taken 24/7 surveillance to have foiled the lone wolf knife attack, which would have been unwarranted on the information they had at the time.

Learning Together co-founder Dr Ruth Armstrong said she was unaware of intelligence on Khan and had she known, he would not have been invited to Fishmongers’ Hall.

Jurors were told the organisation made no risk assessment of the event beforehand. Research associate Simon Larmour, who accompanied Khan from Euston station on the morning of the attack, said he only knew of his terror conviction through a Google search.

Staff at Fishmongers’ Hall said they were not warned that a convicted terrorist was among the delegates. There were no bag searches on the door or knife arches at the venue, jurors heard.

Counter-terrorism prison security governor Steve Machin, who was among the guests, noticed Khan was wearing a bulky coat, which it later transpired concealed a fake suicide vest. He told jurors he was not in a work ‘headspace’ so accepted Khan’s ‘plausible’ explanation.

Later that day, Khan strapped knives to his hands and fatally stabbed Saskia Jones and Jack Merritt before being shot dead on London Bridge.

Previously, the Mappa panel had regarded Khan’s association with offender educational group Learning Together as positive and something to be encouraged.