Saskia Jones and Jack Merritt were stabbed by Usman Khan less than a year after he left prison.
Failings by MI5 and the police contributed to the deaths of two graduates who were killed by a convicted terrorist, a jury has found.
University of Cambridge alumni Saskia Jones and Jack Merritt were stabbed by Usman Khan at a rehabilitation event at Fishmongers’ Hall in November 2019.
Khan, 28, had been released from prison 11 months previously, the inquests at London’s Guildhall heard.
The jury concluded that both victims had been unlawfully killed.
Khan, who wounded three others in the attack, was chased on to London Bridge by people at the event who were armed with a fire extinguisher and a narwhal tusk plucked from a wall.
He was shot dead on the bridge by police.
Jurors found there had been unacceptable management and a lack of accountability in the oversight of Khan, who had been allowed to travel on his own to London.
They concluded there had been failures in the sharing of information between state agencies responsible for monitoring the convicted terrorist.
Deficiencies in the organisation of the event at Fishmongers’ Hall, including inadequate security measures, were also found to have been a factor in the deaths.
After the conclusions were delivered, the jury forewoman said the jurors wanted to send “heartfelt condolences to the families of Saskia and Jack” who “clearly touched the lives of so many, ours included”.
“We are so incredibly sorry. The world lost two bright stars that dreadful day,” she said.
The forewoman added the jury wanted to “thank the astonishing individuals who put themselves in real danger to help and our incredible emergency services for their response, both that day and every day”.
Khan, who was from Stafford, had been released from prison in December 2018 after spending eight years in jail for planning to set up a terrorist training camp in Pakistan.
At the conclusion of the inquests, 23-year-old Ms Jones’s family said there were still “unanswered questions relating to failures of a number of organisations and individuals”.
“It is beyond understanding and astonishing that not one of the state agencies sufficiently considered the associated risk and therefore questioned the wisdom of sending Usman Khan unaccompanied to London,” the family said in a statement.
They also criticised Learning Together, which ran the prisoner rehabilitation programme, and the Fishmongers’ Company over failures to keep those at the event safe.
Jack Merritt’s father David said it was “clear… that the arrangements put in place for managing Usman Khan after his release from prison in 2019 were not fit for purpose, despite the authorities having had six years to plan for this”.
“We hope that all other agencies and organisations involved with Khan will learn the lessons highlighted by the inquest and will make changes to their systems and working practices,” he added.
By Dominic Casciani, home and legal correspondent
These verdicts are so clear and damning that they have far wider implications than this terrible tragedy.
They raise questions about the competence and ability of state agencies to properly manage the risk of men as dangerous as Usman Khan. If they wanted to, the families could now try to sue the agencies involved for a finding they breached their duty to take reasonable steps to protect life. The mistakes and omissions were clear to the jury – from the inexperience of the officers managing Khan in the community, through to a dreadful muddle over who should have passed them critical MI5 intelligence.
All of it, in the jury’s view, was “unacceptable”. There are questions too for Cambridge University, where the chiefs of a rehabilitation scheme believed Khan was such a success he could come to their reunion in London, despite the city being such an obvious target for a convicted, deviant and unrepentant terrorist.
Read more from Dominic here.
A Court of Appeal ruling had meant Khan had to be automatically released on licence from prison, with the Parole Board having no say as to whether he was safe to be freed.
Throughout his time in jail, he was classed among the 70 highest-risk inmates in the country, was frequently involved in violence and radicalisation and spent a significant period under investigation by MI5.
Upon his release Khan was assessed as being more dangerous than when he went into prison, and there was seen to be an imminent risk of him causing serious harm to the public.
Before his release, the security service launched a new covert investigation, which became a priority inquiry after intelligence was received that Khan intended to return to his “old ways” and would carry out an attack after his release.
But this intelligence was never shared with Khan’s probation officer nor the Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA) panel that managed him in the community. It did not even know that Khan was being investigated by MI5 – one of whose officers often secretly attended the panel meetings.
While in HMP Whitemoor, Khan was allowed to attend a prisoner education project run by Cambridge University called Learning Together.
After his release, he remained in touch with Learning Together staff, even appearing as a case study of successful change in a project video and publication. He was consequently invited to the anniversary celebration at Fishmongers’ Hall.
Police, MI5 and probation services all knew that Khan was going to attend the event, which was his first unescorted trip out of Staffordshire after leaving prison.
But the inquests heard none of them considered the potential risks or took any steps to guard against them.
In the days before the event, Khan purchased knives and items for a fake suicide vest. He made his way to London having had his licence conditions relaxed to allow unaccompanied travel by train.
Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, the national lead for Counter Terrorism Policing, said the way offenders were managed in the community had been improved but he was “so deeply sorry we weren’t better than this in November 2019”.
He added: “The jury has today concluded that Jack and Saskia were unlawfully killed.
“This reflects the fact that whilst we, along with our partners, will constantly strive to improve, the ultimate responsibility for this barbaric act lies with the attacker.”
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