Probation officers monitoring Fishmongers’ Hall terror attacker Usman Khan believed he was making ‘good progress’ while he secretly planned the knife attack which killed two people, an inquest heard.
The convicted jihadi, 28, was still on license and deemed ‘high-risk’ by authorities when he targeted a prison rehabilitation event at the City of London venue on November 29, 2019.
Cambridge graduates Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23, were killed and three others were left seriously injured in the atrocity.
Saskia’s mother, Michelle Jones, told the inquest that her daughter was undecided about whether to visit the event until the night before.
She said: ‘Saskia was at first unsure, and the uncertainty persisted until the evening before.
‘Eventually, she decided she should go because it was an anniversary.
‘Saskia was not aware of who would be attending the event.’
Secretly armed with three knives and a fake suicide vest, the extremist pretended to be reformed in order to get permission to travel up to London from Stafford for the conference.
Cambridge graduates Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23, were killed by convicted terrorist Usman Khan, 28, at a London event marking the fifth anniversary of prisoner educational programme Learning Together on November 29, 2019
The inquest into the victims’ deaths heard today that Khan was known to take part in ‘extremist bullying’ and had groomed other prisoners ‘for use after release.’
After an attack on an inmate in 2017, Khan ‘jumped’ on the jail’s spurred netting in protest when his privileges were taken away as a result.
Rather than reckon with his own behaviour, the terrorist would ‘play it down’ and instead accuse prison staff of ‘racism,’ jurors heard.
Towards the end of his time in jail, Khan managed to convince officials that his views were changing by taking part in sessions with the prison’s onsite moderate imam, the inquest heard.
Giving evidence offender manager Philip Bromley, who monitored Khan during his time in prison, said it was hard to tell whether Khan’s new-found cooperation was ‘superficial’ or not.
Asked by Jonathan Hough QC, counsel to the inquests, whether he suspected he might be dealing with someone ‘consistently manipulative and deceitful,’ Mr Bromley said: ‘I don’t think I necessarily thought of it in those terms again.
Khan (pictured), from Stafford in the West Midlands, armed himself with knives and strapped a fake suicide belt to his waist before attacking conference delegates
‘You do always maintain that sense that this might not be as it seems… Sometimes it’s a lot more difficult to spot if someone’s being manipulative or lying.’
He added: ‘I didn’t necessarily automatically think he was being superficial. It did initially seem to a degree to be genuine but obviously I remained sceptical.’
When Khan was handed over to a different probation officer, Ken Skelton, in 2017, Mr Bromley told him the offender was making ‘good progress.’
Asked whether he warned Mr Skelton that Khan might be lying, the officer said: ‘I don’t think I would have specifically used those terms because I think by that stage I wasn’t sure in all honesty whether he had engaged or it was duplicitous.’
In 2018, the two officers continued to discuss Khan’s progress and felt he was ‘doing well,’ jurors heard.
‘Generally speaking that he was making good progress, abiding by his license conditions,
there was the odd little hiccup in terms of practical arrangements… but that was quite typical.
‘The overall impression was that he was doing well,’ Mr Bromley said.
Michelle Jones (pictured), the mother of Saskia Jones, said in a witness statement to the inquests that her daughter was initially unsure of whether to attend the Fishmongers’ Hall event – only deciding to go the day beforehand
Jurors have heard that Khan became upset when police visited his home and took pictures of his collection of X-box games weeks before he launched the atrocity.
Mr Bromley said the terrorist’s response didn’t seem ‘disproportionate’ and said news of the tragedy came as a complete ‘surprise and shock.’
Turning to the day of the attack, the officer said he had been in his office late on Friday afternoon when Mr Skelton walked in and told him what had happened.
‘It seems like a blank now but [Mr Skelton] was extremely shocked and surprised. I think he was initially concerned about the news that there’d been an incident in London but he didn’t necessarily know that Mr Khan had been involved so he was concerned about how Mr Khan would get back, such was the surprise that he felt and the shock.’
‘Did you share that surprise?’ Mr Hough asked.
‘Yes,’ Mr Bromley replied.
Khan pictured on a train to Euston. The train he was planning to travel was cancelled, leading to him calling Simon Larmour, a worker from Learning Together, in an apparent panic. He got onto a more direct train that left at 7.44am but he did not have the right ticket and at 8.11am, when his ticket was checked onboard, he bought a discounted ticket
Jurors also heard Ms Jones believed extremist offenders should be watched more closely than other ex-convicts after release from prison.
The inquest into the victims’ deaths today heard Ms Jones had a ‘desire to see good in people’ and found her work with ex-offenders ‘extremely rewarding.’
But in a written statement, the victim’s mother said her daughter was ‘not naive’ and believed that certain types of ex-convict should be treated with extreme caution.
Michelle Jones said: ‘Saskia was at first unsure, and the uncertainty persisted until the evening before.
‘Eventually, she decided she should go because it was an anniversary.
‘Saskia was not aware of who would be attending the event.
‘I asked Saskia the evening before and she still did not know, save for a few staff.’
The mother added: ‘I had several conversations with Saskia about her feelings towards the treatment of ex-offenders.
‘She believed there should be a distinction between terrorists and other ex-offenders.
‘Saskia thought that different mindsets existed between the two categories, and that the treatment of each should be approached differently.
‘Her view in relation to terrorist offenders was that although they should be given an opportunity to change they should be more closely monitored.
‘She was not naive despite her desire to see the good in people.’
In November 2019 Khan stabbed Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23, during a prisoner rehabilitation conference at Fishmongers’ Hall near London Bridge
Ms Jones added: ‘I had several conversations with Saskia towards the treatment of ex-offenders, she believed there should be a distinction between terrorists and other ex-offenders.
‘Her view of terror offenders was, although they should be given possibility to change, they should be more closely monitored.’
The inquests heard Usman Khan moved prisons six times during the first two years of his eight-year sentence for plotting a jihadi terror camp in Pakistan, following concerns about his behaviour in jail.
Nick Armstrong, for the family of Jack Merritt, suggested the probation service had failed because of the lack of structured decision-making processes assessing Khan’s risk for several months after he left prison.
Mr Bromley replied: ‘It’s not ideal, but there was still the top-level oversight,’ adding Khan’s licence conditions remained in place and he was still monitored by police.
Mr Armstrong said: ‘You said the feedback you were receiving is he seemed to be making good progress. That is because he has remained complaint and quiet.’
But Mr Armstrong said there was no evidence Khan had addressed his behaviour, such as his need for status and his failure to recognise his wrongdoing.
Mr Bromley said: ‘In custody, some of that had been addressed.’
Mr Bromley denied the suggestion from Mr Pitchers that he would have objected to Khan attending the Fishmongers’ Hall event had he known about the lack of security planning, such as bags not being searched and Khan arriving unaccompanied by police.
He said: ‘The impression I was getting was he was doing well and Learning Together was a part of that.
‘It would have been difficult to keep refusing Mr Khan to do things.’
Mr Bromley denied the suggestion that he and Mr Skelton had failed in their supervision of Khan.
The inquests also heard how Phil Bromley emailed probation colleagues and the police in September 2019 to request that a new mentor be found for Usman Khan, after the existing contract came to an end.
No mentoring took place from September, Khan moved out of the approved premises into his own flat, and he remained unemployed.
Inquest hears how Fishmongers’ Hall killer prepared for attack the day before
The Fishmongers’ Hall killer did most of the preparation for his attack the day before he travelled to London, the inquest has heard.
Usman Khan bought knives from a market stall, had a haircut and shaved his body hair in preparation for martyrdom, the inquest was told.
Khan received the train ticket to London from Stafford on November 15 and made the first purchase for the attack five days later.
He went into the Tesco Extra on Newport Road in Stafford at 5.18pm to buy a roll of T-Rex gaffer tape, which he used to construct the fake suicide belt.
Two days later, on November 22, Khan went to TK Maxx at Friary Green retail park in Stafford at 4.13pm, where he bought a Dernier manbag that was later found in the toilet cubicle at the hall where he prepared for the attack.
The employee remembered that Khan looked suspicious because he wore sunglasses in the store and when she asked if he was having a nice day he ‘just grunted at her.’
At 10.36am he withdrew £10 in cash from the HSBC in Stafford market and was called at 11.09 by someone from the Department for Employment who was helping him get a job, by which time he was apparently having a haircut.
Detective Chief Inspector Dan Brown, the senior investigating officer for Scotland Yard’s SO15, said: ‘Cutting hair and trimming beards is a common act of cleanliness, part of the act of martyrdom for extremists.’
At 1.11pm, he was at a shop called Trespass camping and survival store in Gaolgate Street buying an own-brand padded jacket in extra large for £49.99.
He had recently bought another padded jacket in large but Mr Brown said he believed the larger size was need to hide the fake suicide belt.
By 1.36pm, he was visiting Sports Direct also in Gaolgate St, where he purchased a pair of Nike Manoa work boots and a Sondico base core top for £14, both of which he wore to the attack.
From there he walked to Poundstretcher at Friary retail park where he paid for scissors and a mask, along with razors and eyebrow wax strips at 1.54pm.
The last of the items were paid for in cash. The scissors were found in the cubicle at the hall where they had been used to cut the tape that attached the knives to gloves he wore for the attack and the cycling-style mask was worn during the assault.
After the attack it was discovered that Khan, in common with other martyrs, had shaved all his body hair to prepare himself for death.
There was a second shopping visit to the same Tesco Extra store at 5.14pm when Khan bought another pack of the TRex gaffer tape to wrap the fake explosives on the belt.
The 4 pack of Beauty Line knives, which retailed at around £15, had apparently been bought on Stafford Market, although the seller was never found.
Khan used two in the attack, left one in his bag in the toilet cubicle and the last one was found at his flat, along with wiring from his X-box, a tubigrip bandage, and clingfilm that he had used to simulate a suicide belt.
Khan left his rented flat at 7.09am on November 29 and was at Stafford station by 7.18am, using the cash machine and going briefly into the toilets.
However he called Simon Larmour, the worker from Learning Together who he was to meet at Euston, at 7.33am, in an apparent panic because his train had been cancelled.
He got onto a more direct train that left at 7.44am but he did not have the right ticket and at 8.11am, when his ticket was checked onboard, he bought a discounted ticket, paying partly in cash and partly by card, although the card payment was later declined when the machine eventually connected.
For seven minutes between 8.47am and 8.54am, Khan went to the toilets where he probably put on his hoax suicide belt, the police officer said.
The train arrived at Euston at 9.08am, slightly earlier than planned because it was faster, and he withdrew another £30 in cash and went to the toilets again.
He met Mr Larmour and John Crilly, another ex-offender, who travelled with him to Monument tube station, and who was later to tackle him outside the hall after the attack.
Yet there was no risk assessment review done for Khan at the time, despite the significant changes in his life.
Mr Bromley earlier told the inquests that Khan appeared to be making progress.
However, Henry Pitchers QC, for Saskia Jones’ family, said Khan was ‘lacking any purpose in day-to-day life’, adding: ‘A critical look at those few months would have given rise to a very different picture.’
Sumeet Johal, a counter-terrorism probation officer for Usman Khan, told the inquests he recalled a split between probation officers and West Midlands counter-terrorism police at a Mappa (multi-agency public protection arrangements) meeting in May 2019 before it was later decided by ‘consensus’ that Khan’s risk status would be reduced.
Mr Johal said he received reports from mentors who met up with Khan weekly in order to supervise him at the library, at the gym, and elsewhere in public.
He said: ‘Generally they (reports) were good.
‘Although the mentor was assisting with these activities, the key part of the mentor’s role was to pick up on his attitude in the process.’
Mr Johal admitted, however, that there ‘were some issues’.
He said he believed Khan’s motivation for criminal offending was political, not theological.
He said: ‘His understanding of religious scriptures was quite shallow and hollow.
‘He wasn’t a student studying in terms of deep diving into religious texts… it was superficial.’
Mr Johal said he agreed with concerns raised at a Mappa meeting in May 2019 that there was ‘little value’ in the mentoring scheme, which served almost as a companionship service rather than reporting back intelligence about Khan’s mood.
He said it was important to stop terror offenders meeting up with their old associates, but said people often did not want to make friends with a convicted terrorist.
He said: ‘They need individuals who don’t despise society and everything they stand for.
‘(Mentoring) isn’t and shouldn’t be just about going to the gym and going for food.’
The mentoring scheme with Khan ended in August 2019, the inquests were told.
Mr Johal said there was a need to ‘manage (Khan’s) expectations’ upon his release from prison in December 2018.
This included him being prevented from attending a Learning Together event at Cambridge University in March 2019.
He said: ‘In terms of status, in custody he built up a sense of status and achievement.
‘We needed to manage that because he was coming into society not just as an ex-offender, but as an ex-terror offender.
‘We had to manage his expectations around what he can and can’t achieve in society.’
The inquests saw minutes from the ERG interviews with Khan in which he apparently sought to dismiss the seriousness of his offending.
He told probation staff the terror training camp he tried to set up was actually a mosque, and that weapons were used for self-defence.
He also described how he felt previous police raids upon his home were ‘part of wider injustices in the world against Muslims’.
Jonathan Hough QC, counsel to the inquests, asked Mr Johal whether he thought Khan was lying, and being inconsistent.
Mr Johal said: ‘We were aware of the facts of the case. We are aware of inconsistencies.
‘What he’s saying – no-one who reads these documents takes it at face value.
‘They are his views, what he’s dealing with.
‘Is it completely accurate? No it’s not.
‘Are we aware of that? Yes we are.’
Mr Johal said he would have given more detailed feedback about Khan’s interviews to Mappa.
Minutes from a multi-agency public protection arrangements (Mappa) meeting in April 2019 showed Khan had become frustrated about the mentor assigned to him, and that there were concerns Khan may become aggressive.
It read: ‘It was understood he (Khan) was unhappy about the mentor accompanying him to the gym and the mentor’s apparent lack of timekeeping.’
Mr Bromley said he and Mr Skelton reviewed Khan’s perceived risk level the following month, during which it was decided to reduce him from ‘very high risk to high risk’.
Mr Bromley, who stopped being Usman Khan’s direct probation officer in 2017, said he was ‘broadly in support’ of Khan attending a future Learning Together event, but said he was unaware of the specifics regarding the Fishmongers’ Hall celebration.
He said: ‘The feedback and the information I was getting was he (Khan) seemed to be getting a lot out of it and was enjoying it.
‘It was a constructive use of his time, which is not always easy to do with high-risk offenders coming out of prison.’
Mr Bromley said he also supported Khan being permitted to move out of his approved premises and into a private flat in September 2019, adding: ‘It seemed like the natural time for him to progress.’
Mr Bromley, who was the line manager for Khan’s probation officer Ken Skelton upon Khan’s release from prison, said the feedback was that the 28-year-old was doing well in the community.
He said: ‘He continued to make good progress… there was nothing coming to me that caused any concern.’
He said he was aware of some concerns that Khan was becoming isolated, but said it did not cause him undue worry.
He said: ‘We were aware Mr Khan’s family were in Stoke-on-Trent which isn’t too far away.
‘I don’t remember being more concerned than the ordinary.’
He said Mr Skelton came into his office at 4pm on the day of the Fishmongers’ Hall atrocity because he was initially concerned Khan would not be able to get back from London – not because he thought Khan was the suspect.
The inquests heard Khan sought to apply for a construction course in July 2019 with a view to getting a job, but he was prevented from enrolling because of concerns about whether he was a risk.
Mr Bromley said: ‘I think there had been some things in the media around vehicles used in possible (terror) attacks.
‘I wasn’t sure about the dumper truck.
‘It seemed an idea to suspend it (Khan’s participation in the course) until we knew a bit more.’
Probation services failed to gauge Khan’s risk before he committed the atrocity as officers were juggling heavy workloads, the inquest heard.
Jurors heard today that those monitoring Khan while he was on license did not complete a full assessment of him in the year leading up to the attack.
Khan was still deemed more dangerous than 99.9 per cent of other prisoners when he was released – he was one of just 70 convicts in England placed in ‘high-risk Category A.’
‘Everything about this case at this point Mr Bromley is screaming “be very, very careful,” isn’t it?’ the lawyer asked.
‘Yes,’ Mr Bromley replied.
Supervisors eventually downgraded Khan’s risk from ‘very high’ to ‘high’ but had not yet carried out an OASys (Offender Assessment System) report – used to gauge an offender’s risk of harm and likelihood of re-offending.
Asked why the assessment had not been completed, Mr Bromley replied: ‘As far as I’m aware [it] would be completed when there’s been a significant event so we’ve spoken about getting a job, moving on from the premises, so it would be tied with that really.’
Jurors heard Mr Skelton, Khan’s probation officer, had been preparing a report, but that after four months of work it was just 15 pages long.
Asked why there had been slow progress, Mr Bromley replied that community-based probation officers were expected to manage numerous cases at once.
The officer added that probation would have also been tasked with dealing with practical changes like Khan’s employment status and accommodation, as well as his behaviour.
‘The workload for a community-based probation officer is such that Mr Skelton had quite a lot of other cases he would have had to deal with… There might have been issues with coordinated diaries,’ Mr Bromley said.
The lawyer went on: ‘What I’m putting you is we have a man who comes out in extraordinary circumstances from high-risk Category A in circumstances in which you accept you have to be very, very careful because the first guy out did it again.
‘We’re now heading into the patch where he moves out of approved premises and the mentors [are] stopping, and we’re going to get into some reports of concerns in November 2019… but we go through that whole period without either of the significant structuring tools, OASys or ERG, being completed.
‘That has to be a significant failure, doesn’t it?’
‘It’s not ideal, I accept it’s not ideal… I accept it should have been completed sooner but for me I think the bottom line was, are the other license conditions still in place… Is he still being monitored by us, by probation and police…,’ Mr Bromley replied.
Views about Khan’s progress were based on the fact that he had stayed ‘compliant and quiet,’ rather than any positive evidence that he was changing his ‘teenage behaviour’ and ‘deception,’ Mr Armstrong said.
‘From some of the work he did in custody perhaps some of those (issues) have been addressed but maybe not all of it,’ Mr Bromley said.
‘It looks bad,’ Mr Armstrong added.
‘It doesn’t look ideal, yes,’ Mr Bromley said.
The supervisor added that probation had to balance protecting the public with allowing prisoners to rebuild their lives in the community.
He said that denying freedoms to ex-offenders too frequently ran the risk of inflaming their sense of ‘personal grievance’ which might increase the risk of re-offending.
The inquest previously heard how Usman ‘prepared for martyrdom’ the day before the attack by buying knives from a market stall, having a haircut and shaving.
Among the incidents listed at the inquest were:
- Khan had said while he was in prison that he ‘wanted to die and go to paradise’;
- He had climbed onto the netting area between floors and began reciting a poem which included the phrase, ‘cut off the kuffars [infidel’s] head’;
- Prison guards had found a razorblade taped to the underside of some furniture in his cell;
- Another search revealed newspaper cuttings related to ISIS terrorism and jihadists;
- Intelligence suggested that Khan was ‘known to be a Muslim enforcer in the prison’;
- Khan had told other prisoners to engage in ‘Takiya’ – a lie permitted only in the advancement of Islam;
- He was once said to have declared that ‘all staff with keys are fair game’;
- Khan was involved in the beating of a prisoner after he ‘declined to convert to Islam’;
- Khan associated with Fusilier Lee Rigby’s killer before his release.
Detective Chief Inspector Dan Brown of Scotland Yard’s SO15, gave details of Khan’s background and preparation for the attack as part of an investigation following the killings, code named Operation Bemadam.
Born in Stoke-on-Trent to parents who had come to the UK from Pakistan, he was described by a former teacher as having a ‘chip on his shoulder’ and ‘teenage swagger’.
At the age of 13, Khan was excluded from school after assaulting another pupil and exchanging racial slurs, for which he was given a youth reprimand, the court heard.
The court heard how Khan was attracted to extreme Islam in his teens and took an interest in prominent figures Anwar Al-Awlaki and Anjem Choudary, the leader of terrorist organisation al-Muhajiroun (ALM).
In 2008, he preached in Stoke on behalf of ALM and police raided the address where he was living, jurors heard.
Afterwards, Khan said he was born and bred in Stoke, and insisted: ‘I ain’t no terrorist.’
But within years, Khan was one of nine men from London, Stoke and Cardiff to be convicted of terrorism offences.
In December 2010, Khan discussed with another male how to construct the pipe bomb from a recipe in the al Qaida magazine Inspire, jurors heard.
In March 2017, Khan was heard talking about his Muslim faith with Michael Adebolajo, who had killed Fusilier Lee Rigby in Woolwich four years earlier.
A search of Khan’s cell on April 2017, revealed newspaper cuttings related to ISIS terrorism and jihadists and a large amount of hand written religious material.’
Months later, in June, he was involved in a ‘hostile standoff with staff’ and a report noted he was an ‘influential terrorism prisoner involved in extremist bullying.’
He was released from jail on December 24, 2018, having ended up in Whitemoor jail.
It was in Whitemoor where Khan came into contact with the Learning Together programme – who hosted the event where he committed his terrorist attack.
He was said to have engaged ‘positively’ with Learning Together, jurors heard.
The inquest before Coroner Mark Lucraft continues.