Fishmonger’s Hall attack: Woman begged terrorist not to stab her and then played dead, inquest hears

Isobel Rowbotham said ‘no, Usman, please’ as he approached after fatally stabbing two victims

Lizzie Dearden
Security Correspondent
@lizziedearden
Wednesday 14 April 2021 13:16
Floral tributes are left for Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones, who were killed in a terror attack on 29 November 2019
Floral tributes are left for Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones, who were killed in a terror attack on 29 November 2019

A woman who survived a terror attack has said she begged the knifeman not to hurt her and then “played dead” after being stabbed.

Isobel Rowbotham worked for Cambridge University’s Learning Together programme, which was holding an anniversary celebration at Fishmongers’ Hall in London.

One of the attendees was Usman Khan, a 28-year-old terror offender who murdered two people at the event on 29 November 2019.

Ms Rowbotham was in the reception area of the venue when he launched his attack shortly before 2pm, stabbing victim Jack Merritt in the men’s toilets and then attacking Saskia Jones in an adjoining cloakroom.

Giving evidence to the inquests into their deaths on Wednesday, she said she first saw Merritt emerge into reception “shouting that he had been stabbed” and covered in blood.

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“He was holding his stomach, obviously injured. There was a lot of blood everywhere,” Ms Rowbotham added.

“I looked to my left and saw Khan coming towards me with knives in his hands.”

She recalled the attacker moving fast and with purpose towards her, adding: “I was saying ‘no, Usman, please’ but when it became obvious he wouldn’t stop I turned to my left and tried to hunch and protect myself.

“I felt him stabbing me, it felt more like punches I guess, a lot of repeated punches.”

Ms Rowbotham said that when she was lying on the floor, she felt Khan striking his final blows to her neck.

“It felt like he thought they were the final stabs. They were intended to finish me,” she told the hearing at London’s Guildhall.

“I decided to lie on the floor and play dead in case he came back again.”

Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23, were murdered during the 2019 Fishmongers’ Hall terror attack

Ms Rowbotham was treated by police and paramedics, and was among several stabbed victims who survived their injuries.

The inquests also heard evidence from a receptionist working at Fishmongers’ Hall who witnessed the attack and called 999.

Dawn Batchelor told how Merritt staggered into her office, adjoining the reception area, saying he had been stabbed and bleeding.

Ms Batchelor said that after he collapsed, she initially hoped she was witnessing “some sort of re-enactment” or film, but then a friend followed Mr Merritt inside and Khan appeared at the door.

She told how Khan was holding a knife at head height and she shouted to a security officer to shut the office door, before calling the police.

The hearing was shown a transcript of the 999 call, where Ms Batchelor told an operator: “Somebody has been stabbing, he is running amok, he is running amok, I am deadly serious. He stabbed someone, the person is bleeding right now.”

The receptionist told how Merritt was “bleeding really badly” and repeatedly asked for an ambulance or first aid to arrive quickly.

She could be heard saying “this can’t be real” before telling the operator that Khan had run out of Fishmongers’ Hall onto London Bridge armed with a knife.

“Really hurry, it looks like a terrorist attack,” Ms Batchelor said. “The ambulance needs to be here really quickly.”

She told Merritt to “stay with us” before police officers and doctors arrived to give first aid. The inquests heard that the 25-year-old was taken to an emergency services rendezvous point for treatment on a stretcher, but died of his injuries. Jones died at the scene, after being stabbed in the neck. The inquests continue.