A convicted terrorist told a prisoner rehabilitation conference that he was a reformed character who had turned away from the “wrong path” just minutes before killing two people in a knife attack, an inquest has heard.
Usman Khan, 28, took part in a breakout session on individual “turning points” at London’s Fishmongers’ Hall in the hour before his deadly attack in November 2019, the barrister Catherine Jaquiss told the inquest jury.
Jaquiss sat next to Khan after inviting him to join her group at a table in the building’s banqueting hall at an event to mark the fifth anniversary of Learning Together, an educational rehabilitation initiative run by the University of Cambridge.
She told the inquest: “I turned behind me to a person who I now know to be Usman Khan and asked him to join our table. We were asked to contemplate occasions upon which we made a choice which led us in one direction or another.”
She said Khan looked “a little shy” and added: “I remember him saying … that he had been involved with a group of people who had been leading him down the wrong path. He had now seen that way was wrong. And he was now essentially turning the other way, or going a different way.”
On Monday, the inquest heard that Khan had been released on licence in 2018 after spending eight years in prison for terrorism offences.
Jaquiss said the breakout session finished at 1.30pm. Shortly before 2pm, Jaquiss said, she began hearing a woman screaming and “grunting noises” as Khan began an attack that killed 25-year-old Jack Merritt and 23-year-old Saskia Jones and injured three others.
In the minutes that followed, Jaquiss recalled seeing a man come into the banqueting hall, “who said, there’s a man downstairs with knives and a bomb strapped to him”.
She added: “I was certainly very scared. I suppose frozen to the spot a little, not knowing what to do.”
Amy Coop, a film-maker who was at the conference to record a video of the event, said she recalled hearing a “guttural roar from a male person, which was horrible”. She told the inquest: “It was like someone going into battle in a film.” She also gave a graphic description of seeing Jones on a staircase after she had been stabbed.
Coop said: “I could see a young woman lying on the stairs with a man kneeling next to her trying to try to help her. She was kind of ashen grey in the face. Her eyes were open and very glassy and just staring straight up.”
Jonathan Hough QC, the counsel to the inquest, said: “We know of course, the young woman was Saskia Jones.” Coop confirmed this.
She added: “One thing in particular I heard someone shout: ‘Take your jacket off. We need to stop the bleeding’.”
Coop then described how she tried to find a first aid kit and material to help stem bleeding.
Earlier, Coop had recalled admiring engraved narwhal tusks hanging on walls of the hall before the conference began. She said one of these was used to fight off Usman.
She told the inquest: “There were various other people who then came past me on the way down the stairs, one of whom carrying one of the narwhal tusks that I’d seen earlier in the day on the wall.”
This was the civil servant Darryn Frost, Hough told the jury.
Coop added: “There was a girl was coming up the stairs, who had dark hair and a white shirt on who was very distressed, and was covered in blood.” This was Stephanie Szczotko, one of the three people injured in the attack, the jury was told.
Soon after, Coop said, she was ushered out of the building where she could hear gun shots from London Bridge, as Khan was shot dead by police.
“I think there were between 10 and 12 in kind of two short bursts,” she told the jury.
The inquest, heard before the judge Mark Lucraft, continues.