Fishmongers’ Hall attack inquests: Victim Jack Merritt helped terrorist reach target after train was cancelled

Usman Khan called hosts of prison rehabilitation event ‘panicking’ over how he would get to London on morning of attack

Lizzie Dearden
Security Correspondent
@lizziedearden
Wednesday 14 April 2021 19:29
Usman Khan at Bank station on his way to Fishmongers’ Hall in London on 29 November 2019
Usman Khan at Bank station on his way to Fishmongers’ Hall in London on 29 November 2019

One of the victims of the Fishmongers’ Hall terror attack unwittingly helped his killer reach the target after a train was cancelled, an inquest has heard.

Usman Khan, 28, murdered Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones at an event held by Cambridge University’s Learning Together prison rehabilitation programme on 29 November 2019.

The inquests into their deaths heard that Khan was invited as a former participant of the programme, after he attended courses during his prison sentence for a previous terror plot.

At the time, Khan was being monitored by the probation service, police and MI5 but a Learning Together research associate said Khan did not know the extent of restrictions he was under.

Dr Simon Larmour, a friend of Mr Merritt’s, was tasked with collecting Khan from Euston railway station and escorting him to the event on the London Underground.

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He said that Khan, who he had previously met through his work, phoned him “panicking” at about 7.30am because his train from Stafford had been cancelled.

“He was very erratic. I was trying to understand what was going on and it was hard to work out,” Dr Larmour told a hearing on Wednesday.

“While I was on the phone, Jack was looking at his phone to see if there were any other trains Usman could take. We found a solution, and found another train for him to come down to London.”

Dr Larmour and Mr Merritt were together in Cambridge at the time, before getting the train to London themselves.

He said that during the journey he had another phone call with Khan where he sounded “more relaxed” after boarding the service that Mr Merritt had helped find.

Dr Larmour, a criminologist, said he had first met Khan at a reading group in the high-security HMP Whitemoor, where the terrorist appeared “quite engaged”.

Jack Merritt, 25, at an event held by the Learning Together programme at Fishmongers’ Hall, London, on 29 November 2019

They met again at Khan’s probation hostel in March 2019 for a research interview, which aimed to find out the effect of the Learning Together programme.

During the visit, Dr Larmour and programme founder Dr Ruth Armstrong filmed the interview and parts were used for a promotional video for the scheme.

Dr Larmour said Khan was “quite neurotic” and focused on his time in prison, despite having been released in December 2018.

“I walked out of there thinking he is still very much in a prison mindset and finding it hard to disconnect from that reality,” he added.

There was a “falling-off in communication” with Khan in the following months, but Dr Larmour spoke to the terrorist a week before the event where he would launch his attack.

He said Khan was uncharacteristically brief on the call and “seemed a bit weird and depressed”, but that he did not view the behaviour as a concern.

The inquest heard that Dr Larmour did not know exactly what Khan had been jailed for in 2012 until he did his own Google search in the months before the attack, and that he had not been trained to deal with terrorist offenders or assess any changing threat.

He said he did not understand the significance of Khan being held in a high-security prison for the maximum amount of time during his sentence, and that he had not been warned about the potential for extremists to “game the system”.

An image shown at the Fishmongers’ Hall terror attack inquest, showing Usman Khan and Saskia Jones sat at a table together during opening speeches at the Learning Together event when Khan later killed her

The inquests will be examining at a later date the information-sharing relating to Khan, and the intelligence gathered before his attack.

He arrived at the Learning Together event wearing a concealed fake suicide vest, and attended speeches and a workshop before making his final preparations in a toilet during a break.

Dr Larmour said he heard “shuffling” coming from a locked cubicle when he visited the toilets but “didn’t think much of it”.

Shortly after Dr Larmour left, Mr Merritt said he was going to the bathroom and was attacked by Khan as he emerged from the cubicle.

The hearing was told that he was stabbed multiple times, but managed to run out of the bathroom and into a reception area, where witnesses described him as covered in blood and shouting that he had been stabbed.

Mr Merritt collapsed in an office area, where staff and then police officers provided first aid and CPR. He was evacuated on a stretcher to an emergency services rendezvous point, but doctors pronounced him dead after attempting open heart surgery.

After fatally attacking Mr Merritt, Khan left the toilets and advanced on a Fishmongers’ Hall employee in an adjoining cloakroom.

Usman Khan seen being chased out of Fishmongers' Hall during attack inquest

Ama Otchere, a housekeeping supervisor for the venue, said Khan raised a knife in his right hand while holding his left finger to his lips.

“When he saw me, he raised the knife and told me to ‘shh’ so I wouldn’t scream,” she said.

Khan then stabbed Ms Jones, a 23-year-old Cambridge graduate who had previously volunteered for Learning Together. She died of her injuries after staggering a short way to a staircase.

The inquest heard he then attacked Learning Together office manager Isobel Rowbotham, who begged Khan not to hurt her and then “played dead” after being stabbed.

The terrorist was pelted with furniture and pushed back using makeshift weapons, including a fire extinguisher and narwhal tusks, by staff and attendees.

They chased Khan from Fishmongers’ Hall on to London Bridge, where he was shot dead by armed police. The inquests continue.