Fishmongers’ Hall attacker duped prison boss over extra-large coat that hid fake suicide belt

Usman Khan told counterterrorism expert he was ‘expecting a cold day’ and tried to hug him shortly before bloody rampage

Chiara Giordano
Thursday 29 April 2021 18:55
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Usman Khan told a counter-terrorism boss he was wearing a bulky coat, which concealed a fake suicide belt, because it was a “cold day” shortly before the Fishmongers’ Hall attack
Usman Khan told a counter-terrorism boss he was wearing a bulky coat, which concealed a fake suicide belt, because it was a “cold day” shortly before the Fishmongers’ Hall attack

The Fishmongers’ Hall attacker told a counterterrorism boss he was wearing a bulky coat, which concealed a fake suicide belt, because it was a “cold day” before his bloody rampage, an inquest jury has heard.

Usman Khan had a short conversation with Steve Machin, governor of counterterrorism at HMP Whitemoor, at a prisoner education event in central London where he later killed Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones.

Mr Machin said he asked Khan why he was wearing the extra-large coat, but decided the jihadi’s answer about dressing for the weather was “plausible”.

He also told the inquests into the deaths he was not “in the same headspace” while at the event because he was not in his prison role of counterterrorism governor.

Mr Machin said: “I couldn’t live my life expecting every encounter with the community or ex-offenders is going to lead to devastation, I couldn’t live with that level of paranoia.”

He previously told the inquests how Khan, from Stafford, tried to give him a hug when the pair met, telling him: “I have learnt that violence isn’t the path.”

But jurors at City of London’s Guildhall heard Khan had spent the previous week buying items needed for his murderous plans, including a black coat he wore to the event, under which he concealed a fake suicide vest.

On Thursday, Nick Armstrong, representing the family of Ms Jones, asked: “Why don’t you pick up the fact he’s wearing the coat?”

Mr Machin replied: “He provided a backstory and it sort of made sense. I could see below the coat was a base layer.

“He said when he checked the weather he was expecting a cold day. He said: ‘I don’t want this being my outer top’.”

Mr Armstrong accused Mr Machin of dropping his guard despite being faced with warning signs about Khan’s presentation.

Saskia Jones, 23, who was stabbed to death by convicted terrorist Usman Khan

Mr Machin said: “I’m not in the same headspace as when I’m at work – I wasn’t there as a counterterrorism governor; I was there as operational manager of HMP Whitemoor.

“My head space would have been completely different.”

Mr Machin rejected Mr Armstrong’s suggestion that Khan being an example of a “good news story” for rehabilitation had effectively “blunt his antennae” of concern.

“I didn’t see it as a ‘good news story’,” he said, adding: “I saw him being involved [with Learning Together] as good, it hadn’t got to the point of a good news story.”

Jack Merritt pictured at the prisoner rehabilitation event at Fishmongers’ Hall

Mr Armstrong replied: “The problem with a good news story is they’re not always true.”

The inquest jury were previously shown images of Khan wearing the coat – bought the day before, in a size larger than he would normally wear – at the Learning Together event.

He took it off once, but wrapped it around his waist to further conceal the fake suicide belt, the court heard.

Khan killed two and injured three others before being chased and disarmed on nearby London Bridge by three men armed with a fire extinguisher and a narwhal tusk.

He was then killed by police.

The inquests continue.

Additional reporting by PA

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