Inquest into London Bridge attack deaths finds police and MI5 failings

Probation service also contributed to deaths in terrorist attack at Fishmongers' Hall, jury concludes

Jack Merritt (left) and Saskia Jones were unlawfully killed in the attack, the inquest found. Photograph: Metropolitan Police/AFP/Getty

Failures by MI5, the police and the probation service all contributed to deaths in a terrorist attack at Fishmongers’ Hall in London, an inquest has concluded.

Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23, were unlawfully killed in the attack at a prisoner education event at the hall in November 2019, the inquest jury at the Guildhall in London found.

The jury also concluded that “missed opportunities” in the way the attacker, Usman Khan, was investigated by the security services and the police in the run-up to the incident probably contributed to the deaths of the victims.

The Merritt family said the inquest had exposed the management of Khan as “not fit for purpose”, while Saskia’s uncle Philip Jones said “those who hide behind the cloak of secrecy” should “search their own conscience” and review their failings.

The inquest’s findings prompted the Metropolitan police to apologise for failings in the way they managed Khan, saying they were “so deeply sorry we weren’t better than this in November 2019”.

The jury agreed there was a failure in the sharing of information and guidance by those responsible for monitoring and investigating Khan. Explaining this conclusion, the jury noted “missed opportunities for those with expertise and experience to give guidance”.

It also referred to “unacceptable management and lack of accountability” by those monitoring Khan in the community.

The seven-week inquest heard that Khan was under priority investigation by MI5 after he was released on licence in December 2018. He had served eight years in high-security prison for trying to set up a terrorist training camp in Pakistan.

There was intelligence in late 2018 to suggest he intended to “return to his old ways” and commit an attack after release. This intelligence was passed to special branch police but it was not shared with those responsible for managing Khan in the community, including his probation officer, Ken Skelton, and Prevent officers at Staffordshire police.

Khan’s risk to the public was discussed at the regular multi-agency public protection agency arrangement (Mappa) meetings, some of which were attended by MI5. Khan’s invitation to the Fishmongers’ Hall event was raised at the meetings, but there was no record of any discussion about it, and none of the agencies involved raised any objections to his attendance.

Khan was allowed to attend the event unaccompanied, despite signs he was becoming increasingly isolated and frustrated at failing to find a job, the inquest heard.

The jury found “serious deficiencies in the management of Khan by Mappa, insufficient experience and training”. It concluded deficiencies in the security arrangements at the event, which was organised by Learning Together, a prisoner education organisation run by Cambridge University, also contributed to their deaths.

The inquest heard Khan was regarded as a “poster boy” for the Learning Together programme and recorded a promotional video at an earlier event. The jury said the authorities had a “blind spot to Khan’s unique risks due to ‘poster boy’ image and lack of psychological assessment posts released from prison”.

Jack’s father, Dave Merritt, said: “The security services and West Midlands counter-terrorism police were complacent and passive in the face of Khan’s extreme and continuing threat.”

He added: “The Mappa process did not operate effectively; roles and responsibilities were unclear, communication between the agencies was inadequate, and leadership and coordination were weak. The probation and police teams directly responsible for Khan’s supervision were staffed by officers with little or no experience of terrorism offenders.”

In tribute to his son, he added: “Jack would have described himself proudly as woke – the opposite, by definition, of being ignorant. Jack was a do-gooder in the very best sense of the term.”

Jones’s family also criticised MI5, which could not answer many of the questions put to it by the inquest because of national security.

Philip Jones, Saskia’s uncle, said: “It is for those who hide behind the cloak of secrecy to search their own conscience and review their own potential failings. However, it is beyond understanding and astonishing that not one of the state agencies sufficiently considered the associated risk and therefore questioned the wisdom of sending Khan unaccompanied to London.”

He also accused Learning Together of showing “seemingly scant regard for the fundamental safety of their staff, volunteers and attendees at the event at Fishmongers Hall”. He added: “Using Khan, in our view, as a ‘poster boy’ for their programme significantly clouded their judgment.

The head of the UK’s counter-terrorism police, Neil Basu, apologised to the victims’ families for policing failures.

He said: “The fact that, as the jury determined, there were omissions or failures in the management of the attacker, and in the sharing of information and guidance by the agencies responsible, is simply unacceptable, and I am so deeply sorry we weren’t better than this in November 2019.

“Managing the risk posed by terrorist offenders is an incredibly challenging job for all the agencies involved and the stark reality is that we can never guarantee that we will stop every attack, but I promise that we will do everything we can to try.”

The home secretary, Priti Patel, said: “It is important that the government and operational partners learn lessons to prevent further incidents like this, and we will also consider the inquest findings.”

The jury offered its “heartfelt condolences to the families of Saskia and Jack … The world lost two bright stars that dreadful day.”

In a statement read to the inquest, a spokesperson for the jury said: “We want to convey to families how seriously we have taken our collective responsibility, how important this is to us, how much your children matter.”

She also paid tribute to people who attended the event, including former and serving prisoners, who fought off Khan during the attack.

The coroner, Judge Mark Lucraft, will consider setting out further lessons from the case in a prevention of future deaths report in the coming months.

On Friday, Lucraft opened a separate inquest into Khan’s death.

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