Fishmongers’ Hall jihadist Usman Khan was known as ‘High Risk Khan’ to workers on a prisoner rehabilitation scheme and was said to have been involved in ‘violent incidents, bullying and serious disruption, including forced [religious] conversions’ inside jail, an inquest heard today.
Jurors were told that there was intelligence the terrorist, 28, ‘might commit an attack’ around the time he was released from category A Whitemoor Prison in Cambridgeshire in December 2018 – almost a year before he killed two Cambridge graduates during a knife rampage.
Counsel for the inquest Jonathan Hough QC said Khan was considered ‘the main inmate’ on his wing for ‘extremist views and the radicalisation of others’ before his release halfway through a 16-year sentence for plotting to set up a jihadist training camp in Pakistan for attacks against Britain.
The inquest also heard how Khan had composed a long and mostly biographical paper about his radicalisation which he then posted to the leader of educational programme Learning Together while behind bars.
It was at an alumni event for the scheme that the convicted terrorist, armed with two knives taped to his gloves and wearing a fake suicide vest, fatally stabbed Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23, before he was chased onto nearby London Bridge by civilians and shot dead by police.
Reverend Paul Foster, Khan’s chaplain at Whitemoor, told the inquests it would be a ‘surprise’ to him if there had been indications Khan would launch an attack as he had ‘appeared to show remorse’ over his past offending. However, he admitted he could have been ‘conned’ by him.
Amy Ludlow, the Cambridge University criminology and law lecturer who co-founded the initiative, told the inquest she was aware of Khan’s status in prison but not why he had been given that designation.
After his release she said she was given a ‘very rosy’ view of his progress by the probation service, but would in any case have assessed her ‘alumni’ event for former prisoners as ‘low risk,’ jurors heard.
The inquest was told that there are currently 70 ‘high risk’, the most dangerous of category A prisoners, representing 0.1 per cent of the prison population.
Usman Khan and Saskia Jones at Fishmonger’s Hall before he stabbed her to death in a horrific attack near London Bridge
Former-prisoner Crilly recalled the moment he came face to face with Khan and blasted him with a fire extinguisher (pictured) in a bid to subdue the terrorist
Usman Khan, 28, was armed with two knives and wore a fake suicide vest as he stabbed Cambridge University graduates Jack Merritt (left), 25, and Saskia Jones (right), 23, to death
Bystanders and police surrounding Usman Khan at the scene of the terror attack on London Bridge on November 29, 2019
Jurors were told that there was intelligence the terrorist, 28, ‘might commit an attack’ around the time he was released from category A Whitemoor Prison in Cambridgeshire (exterior pictured) in December 2018
A Metropolitan Police photograph of an improvised explosive device which has been shown to inquest jurors
Metropolitan Police handout photo, which was shown in court today at the inquest of the terror attack at the Fishmonger’s Hall in London on November 29, 2019 of a knife and tape
Khan was in Whitemoor when he applied for the Writing Together creative writing course beginning in November 2017, a year before his release, and ending in January 2018, when he was given a certificate.
He wrote: ‘I am very interested in creative writing. I have already completed a NEC creative writing course so I can give some insight.’ On a questionnaire he had ticked nine out of 10 for ‘when I make plans, I can make them work.’
Mr Hough asked Ms Ludlow: ‘Did you become aware that Khan’s offending history included terrorism offences?’
‘I became aware,’ she said. ‘People used to call him ‘High Risk Khan’ and he would travel to our learning sessions with a little yellow book that designated high risk. Usman didn’t hide the fact of his conviction or his high risk status.’ But she said that she knew nothing about his offending history or his behaviour in prison.
‘Would it have changed anything if you were told plotting to set up terrorist training camp in Pakistan for attacks against the UK?’ Mr Hough asked.
Usman Khan, 28, who was armed with two knives and wore a fake suicide vest, was tackled by members of the public
‘It would have concerned me as a relevant consideration for my security colleagues [in the prison service],’ Ms Ludlow said. ‘I would have been alive to the need for balance and interpersonal care in the classroom. I don’t think it would have changed anything other than the need for care.’
Inside Whitemoor, Khan was said to have been involved in ‘violent incidents, bullying, and serious disruption, including forced conversions.’ ‘I didn’t know that information,’ Ms Ludlow said.
‘Those sorts of behaviour are not compatible with Learning Together as a community. ‘Had any of those behaviours manifested themselves, they would have been reported and if necessary we would have deselected his application.’
In July 2017, Khan was considered ‘the main inmate’ on his wing for ‘extremist views and the radicalisation of others.’ But Ms Ludlow said she did not know, and added: ‘Yes, it demonstrated this individual has some problematic behaviours that needed to be managed.
‘I was confident that my colleagues in Whitemoor knew of those behaviours and had decided it was nevertheless safe for him to work with us.’
Mr Hough also told jurors how Learning Together ‘interviewed’ Khan at his home in Stafford in February 2019, primarily to record a video message for guests at an event around that time which he was not given security clearance to attend.
Mr Hough asked: ‘Is it right the interview involved some very long monologues with Usman Khan, including quite a number about his grievances over how he was treated in prison?’
Dr Ludlow replied: ‘Yes.’
Dr Ludlow said Khan was given security clearance to attend the Fishmongers’ Hall event, and said that in the run-up she had formed the impression that he ‘wanted to live an ordinary life’.
She said: ‘He was generally fairly upbeat. Kenneth Skelton (Khan’s probation officer) called me a few weeks before to say Usman had quite a few knockbacks from jobs.
‘I was aware Usman was applying for jobs and not getting them, so I was aware of a little dip in mood but nothing out of the ordinary.’
Saskia Jones before she was stabbed to death. Convicted terrorist Usman Khan, 28, killed Cambridge University graduates Ms Jones, 23, and Jack Merritt, 25
Jihadi Usman Khan was photographed sitting one seat away from Saskia Jones, 23, in the banqueting hall at Fishmongers’ Hall in central London in November 2019
Miss Jones was stabbed in the neck by Khan, who had earlier been chatting to her at Learning Together anniversary event
How the Fishmongers’ Hall attack unfolded
Convicted terrorist Usman Khan killed two talented young people and injured three more in around five minutes during a knife attack at Fishmongers’ Hall. An inquest into the deaths of Saskia Jones and Jack Merritt has heard a detailed account of how events unfolded:
- March 10 1991: Usman Khan is born in Stoke-on-Trent.
- 2010: Aged 19, Khan is convicted of terrorism offences and spends the next eight years in jail. In that time, he becomes involved with Learning Together organisation.
- December 2018: Khan is released from jail on various licence conditions and lives in Stafford.
- March 2019: Khan maintains contact with Learning Together and is involved with filming a video for the organisation.
- June 2019: He attends a Learning Together event at one of his former prisons, HMP Whitemoor.
- November 29, 2019, 7.30am: Khan travels by train from Stafford to Euston Station in London. He is met at the station by a Learning Together staff member and he travels by Tube and foot to Fishmongers’ Hall near London Bridge. On route to London, it is believed Khan straps a fake suicide belt around his waist and covers it with his jacket.
- 11am to noon: The delegates attend a brunch at Fishmongers’ Hall.
- 11.56am: Video footage shows Khan talking ‘animatedly’ with Saskia Jones at a table, even though they had not known each other before.
- 12noon: The main Learning Together sessions get under way with speeches in the Banqueting Hall followed by breakout sessions until 1.30pm.
- 1.37pm: Jack Merritt leaves the building briefly, returning at 1.40pm.
- 1.45pm: A further breakout session is due to begin but Khan goes down to the toilets on the ground floor next to the reception area.
- Around 1.53pm: Mr Merritt goes to the gents toilets.
- Between 1.56-1.57pm: Khan launches his attack in the men’s toilets at Fishmongers’ Hall with two knives strapped into his hands. As he prepares, he leaves a bag containing a third blade in a cubicle and drops a prayer book on the floor. He encounters Mr Merritt in the toilets and stabs him multiple times, causing 12 injuries including a fatal wound to the chest. Khan makes his way to the cloakroom area, where he gestured to a member of staff ‘as if to be quiet’. He stabs Ms Jones once in the neck. She staggers up a few steps before collapsing. Khan goes on to stab Stephanie Szczotko in the arm at the bottom of the stairs before stabbing Isobel Rowbotham in the main reception. Over the next few minutes, Khan is confronted by a number of people who take items from the walls to defend themselves, including a ornamental pike and narwhal tusks. Khan returns to attack Ms Rowbotham again as she lies on the ground. He also injures the Fishmongers’ Hall porter Lukasz Koczocik, who suffers a stab to the arm. Khan forces a member of staff to open the doors by holding a knife to his chest. He tries to chase a member of the public back inside the hall but is unsuccessful.
- 1.58pm: Police receive a call to attend the scene.
- Around 2.01pm: Khan is pursued on to London Bridge by John Crilly, Steven Gallant and Darryn Frost. During a confrontation on the bridge, Mr Crilly sprays a fire extinguisher at him and Mr Frost jabs at him with a narwhal tusk before they all tackled Khan to the ground with other members of the public.
- 2.02pm: Armed City of London Police officers arrive on the bridge and tell members of the public to stand back. Khan is shot and Tasered by police, causing him to writhe on the ground.
- 2.10pm: Khan is shot again due to the alleged ‘threat’ from what police believed was an improvised explosive device strapped to his body.
- 2.12pm Khan no longer shows any signs of life.
- 2.25pm Ms Jones is pronounced dead from a single neck wound.
- 2.33pm: Mr Merritt is pronounced dead. A post-mortem examination later confirms he suffered multiple knife wounds, including some defensive injuries. The fatal wound is to the chest.
- 2.41pm: An explosives officer moves towards Khan with armed officers and concludes the IED is fake.
- 3.07pm: Khan’s life is pronounced extinct.
Khan did so well on the course that he was made a ‘peer mentor’ which involved him ‘supporting and mentoring in the learning space and on the wings in a very informal way.’
Ms Ludlow told the inquest that Kahn was among 30 per cent of her ‘ardent participants’ and added: ‘I was in prison a lot but there was nothing remarkable about him.
‘He seems to be engaging positively, very actively taking lots of our courses. He obviously enjoyed creative writing, I would have said at that time.’
Khan enjoyed it so much that he wrote his own essay on radicalisation in modern Europe and sent it to Ms Ludlow shortly after his release. ‘I don’t remember reading it in detail at the time, I probably did,’ she said.
‘We receive lots of post from prisoners. It was rather a verbose piece, quite long winded.
‘It describes personal grievances and examples of harassment as drivers of radical behaviours and some of the factors, in Usman’s view that might help people move away from those things.’
An extract from the essay read: ‘This report will try and highlight some of the problems and also the real fuel of radicalisation and extremism.
‘This report will show that most research done in this field misses the root of radicalisation/extremism which is personal injustices found by individuals on a daily basis.
‘How these could become one of the greatest tools of spreading radicalisation/extremism in the youth of today.’
Mr Hough suggested the piece could be seen as an ‘explanation or justification for radicalisation’ largely from his own perspective. ‘Yes, it is largely experiential,’ Ms Ludlow said.
She said she was not aware of multi-agency minutes from May 2019, that warned: ‘Learning together has given high expectation of future opportunities which may well be disappointed with quite basic employment, if he gets a job at all. His bubble may burst.’
Mr Hough asked if in all dealings with Kenneth Skelton, Khan probation officer ‘you were getting a very rosy picture of Usman Khan and his progress?’
‘Very rosy,’ Ms Ludlow said.
The inquest was told that Ms Ludlow engaged in ‘friendly, upbeat, but fairly limited’ communication by text message after his release.
In one message Khan said he was attending a construction course.
Two colleagues visited Khan in Stafford to conduct a two hour interview with him and record a video for a conference which he had been banned from attending by probation.
Learning Together approached the Timson Foundation which worked with offenders, finding work in the community, but were told they did not work with sexual or terrorism offenders.
‘I copied in Kenneth and he replied providing, to my memory, very positive comments on Usman’s progress and that he had been risk assessed to do work.’
The reply arrived on November 28, the day before the attack.
A note from the Prevent ream of Staffordshire police on November 4, three weeks before the conference at Fishmongers’ Hall, said that this time he had been allowed to attend, but added: ‘Unfortunately we won’t be in a position to send anyone on the train with Usman as this would require two people to travel and that cannot be justified.’
Ms Ludlow said she had not seen Cambridge University guidance on ‘managing risks from travel, fieldwork and work away.’
But if she had, she said: ‘I would have assessed the event to be low risk and when I look at the sorts of precautions I would have expected, I think we followed those.’
Reverend Paul Foster, chaplain at Whitemoor, said: ‘He had conversations with me about wanting to change and make a fresh start – to pay more attention to the ripple effect of his actions.’
Mr Hough asked: ‘Would it have surprised you that, around the time Usman Khan was… engaged in victim awareness, there was intelligence he was trying to radicalise other prisoners?’
Mr Foster said it would. Mr Hough also said that, at the time of his release, there was intelligence that Khan might commit an attack.
Left: Amy Ludlow who organised the conference along with Ruth Armstrong at Fismongers Hall, after giving evidence at the inquest for the victims of the Fishmongers Hall terror attack today. Right: Prison Padre Paul Foster arrives this morning to give evidence at the inquest for the victims of the Fishmongers Hall terror attack today
Mr Foster replied: ‘That would be a surprise. If that intelligence is correct, he was obviously presenting himself in a way that was likely to deceive the likes of myself and others.’
He added: ‘I’m open to say I am wrong, and it is possible I have been conned.’
Mr Foster also said Khan had spoken ‘openly and emotionally’ during a discussion session with a victim of crime.
He added: ‘We were being presented with a lot of positive things about his behaviour – even some of the prisoners were telling me… in one instance a chap lost his son to a murder and Usman was the person at his door offering his condolences and asking if he could help.’
The chaplain, who worked with prisoners of all faiths, described one session with Khan in which he professed ‘some shame’ about the impact his crime had on the Muslim community.
‘He appeared to show remorse for what he had done,’ Mr Foster said.
The inquest also heard how Khan, from Stafford, West Midlands, enrolled on several Learning Together courses, including one on creative writing – a study programme he had applied for by stating his proficiency at ‘making plans work’.
Jury inquests into the deaths of Mr Merritt and Ms Jones are taking place before coroner Mark Lucraft QC. They are due to go on for six weeks before a separate inquest into Khan’s death.