Fishmongers’ Hall attack inquests: Police should have raised concerns over terrorist’s trip to London target, officer admits

Police and MI5 did not discuss the risks of letting terrorist Usman Khan go to event where he launched attack, inquests hear

Lizzie Dearden
Security Correspondent
Monday 17 May 2021 17:50
<p>Khan had been released from prison 11 months before the Fishmongers’ Hall attack for preparing acts of terrorism</p>

Khan had been released from prison 11 months before the Fishmongers’ Hall attack for preparing acts of terrorism

A counter-terrorism officer has admitted that police should have raised concerns about letting a convicted terrorist travel to a London event where he launched a deadly attack.

Usman Khan, 28, murdered two people at a celebration held by Cambridge University’s Learning Together education programme at Fishmongers’ Hall in 2019.

The inquests into his victims’ deaths heard that the probation officers, police and MI5 agents monitoring him did not formally discuss the risks of allowing him to go.

Khan had been released from prison 11 months earlier after serving a sentence for preparing acts of terrorism, and MI5 received intelligence that he wanted to commit an attack after being freed.

Det Sgt Jon Stephenson, from Staffordshire Police Special Branch, told Monday’s hearing that he could not recall a possible attack at the Fishmongers’ Hall event being discussed at official meetings days before Khan’s attack on 29 November 2019.

He was present at a public protection meeting on 14 November, and an operational meeting involving police and MI5 on 18 November.

Det Sgt Stephenson said there had been no fresh intelligence of attack planning after Khan was released from prison in December 2018, and positive reports from probation.

“Learning Together was deemed to be a positive factor in his rehabilitation, I’m not aware of any objections being raised by anybody as to why he couldn’t or shouldn’t attend,” he added.

The counter-terror officer said it “did not occur” to him to suggest safety measures, such as an escort for Khan or bag searches at Fishmongers’ Hall, at the public protection meeting.

Jonathan Hough QC, counsel to the inquests, said Khan was a known terrorist with a “terrible record” of violence and radicalisation inside prison.

He said that the event was Khan’s first unaccompanied trip away from Stafford since he was freed, and was held next to the site of the 2017 terror attack on London Bridge.

Terrorist Usman Khan talks to victim Saskia Jones before attack

“Looking back, do you think you and your colleagues ought to have raised concern and given some advice?” he asked.

“Yes,” Det Sgt Stephenson replied. The officer also admitted he should have raised concern at the following joint operational team meeting with MI5. “I could have raised that risk,” he said. “That was something that could and should have been raised.”

The officer said that in the 11 days between that meeting and Khan’s attack, there was no discussion between counter-terror police and MI5 about any potential risks around his visit to Fishmongers’ Hall.

Previously, Det Sgt Stephenson had raised concerns about Khan’s desire to take a course on driving rubbish lorries because of the terrorists’ previous use of large vehicles in terror attacks.

“It didn’t seem appropriate, considering he was a convicted terrorist and was being offered potentially access to a heavy vehicle, because there had been a recent series of attacks across Europe,” he told the inquests.

Khan was not allowed to join the course. He told the police officers monitoring him in face-to-face meetings that the refusal prevented him from getting a construction job but was lying, the inquests heard.

Cambridge graduates Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23, who were stabbed to death by terrorist Usman Khan during a prisoner rehabilitation event at the Fishmongers’ Hall in London

Det Sgt Stephenson called for the frequency of police visits to Khan to increase in the run-up to the attack because he feared he was “isolating himself”, but the officer in charge of the visits refused.

The inquests previously heard that MI5 and police monitoring missed Khan’s purchase of knives and equipment to construct a fake suicide vest days before the attack.

He arrived at the Fishmongers’ Hall event with the vest concealed under his clothing, and carrying knives in a bag.

Khan used a break between sessions to make his final preparations in a toilet, revealing the fake suicide belt and taping two knives to his hands.

He murdered Learning Together course coordinator Jack Merritt, 25, and former volunteer Saskia Jones, 23, and stabbed three other people before being chased onto London Bridge and shot dead by police.

The inquests are establishing the circumstances of the victims’ deaths and whether they could have been prevented.

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