Reading terror attack: No intelligence of specific threat to parks or LGBT+ community, police say

Exclusive: ‘There is nothing to suggest particular communities are at risk,’ says senior officer amid concern over murder of three gay victims

Lizzie Dearden
Security Correspondent
Friday 26 June 2020 20:04 BST
Silence held outside school where victim of Reading attack worked

There is no intelligence of a specific terror threat to parks or the LGBT+ community following the Reading attack, a senior police officer has said.

Three victims, all gay men, were stabbed to death as they socialised in a park last Saturday.

Writing in The Independent, Deputy Chief Constable Julie Cooke urged people not to “speculate on the motive behind these awful crimes”.

“I know from speaking to many of you and hearing from our LGBT+ police officers and staff that this horrific incident in Forbury Gardens has caused a great deal of sadness and anxiety,” said the officer, who is the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for LGBT+.

“There is nothing specific to suggest anyone attending crowded places is at risk. There is also nothing to suggest particular communities are at risk.

“I would encourage everyone to continue going about daily life, celebrating Pride month and meeting up with long-missed family and friends. We should be alert, not alarmed.”

At least two foiled terror plots have targeted LGBT+ Pride events in recent years – one by a jihadi and one by a neo-Nazi.

A suspect for the Reading attack, 25-year-old Khairi Saadallah, remains in custody and police are not currently seeking anyone else.

David Wails, 49, Joseph Ritchie-Bennett, 39, and James Furlong, 36, were enjoying the sunshine in the park on Saturday when the attack started shortly before 7pm.

Stonewall UK, the LGBT+ rights charity, paid tribute to the trio, saying in a statement: “After such a violent act, we need to join together across communities and stand united.”

A friend said Mr Ritchie-Bennett and history teacher Mr Furlong were “great supporters” of the LGBT+ community.

Left to right: Joe Ritchie-Bennett, James Furlong and David Wails (Thames Valley Police/AP)

“They were their own little support network for anybody to offload their troubles and concerns and gave great advice,” said Martin Cooper, chief executive of Reading Pride.

“They will be sorely missed by myself personally and many in the community. Their loss is a tragedy to so many people.”

Dr Wails was a senior principal scientist at chemicals firm Johnson Matthey, which described him as a “gentle, thoughtful man with a dry sense of humour”.

“Dave was proud to use his expertise to make a positive impact on the world, a spokesperson added. “He was a well-liked colleague who will be much missed.”

In a statement, his parents said: “David was a kind and much-loved son, brother and uncle who never hurt anyone in his life. We are broken-hearted at losing him and in such a terrible way.

“We will treasure our wonderful memories of him and he will always be with us in our hearts.”

Mr Ritchie-Bennett, an American pharmaceutical company employee, previously suffered tragedy in 2014 when his husband died from cancer.

Robert Ritchie, his brother, called him the “greatest guy in the world”, adding: “Everyone who ever met him loved him. He had a personality that just attracted others to want to be around him. He was kind, thoughtful, caring and generous.”

Mr Furlong, was a history teacher at The Holt School in Wokingham, where staff said he “truly inspired everyone he taught”.

Former pupils paid tribute to “the best” teacher on social media, remembering the support he offered them and his “fun and entertaining” lessons.

Post-mortem examination results released on Friday showed that all three victims died from a single stab wound.

Counter Terrorism Policing South East said three other people who were stabbed have been discharged from hospital after receiving treatment.

Anyone with any information about this incident or who was in the area before, during or after it and hasn’t already spoken to police, is asked to contact Thames Valley Police on 101, quoting Operation Vaselike.

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