How London Bridge terrorist Usman Khan was a 'poster boy' for rehab

How London Bridge terrorist Usman Khan was a ‘poster boy’ for rehab who played the system… and took experts for fools

  • Usman Khan was convicted for plotting to bomb the London Stock Exchange
  • The judge ordered him to serve an indeterminate sentence for public protection
  • Six years later, Khan was released from a maximum security prison on licence
  • The 28-year-old became the ‘poster boy’ for the prisoner rehabilitation system 

When Usman Khan was convicted for being part of a plot to bomb the London Stock Exchange, the judge was under no illusion about the serious danger he posed to society.

Mr Justice Wilkie singled him out from other extremists on trial because he was clearly a devious and scheming man dedicated to his extremist ideology.

The judge said that even after serving a lengthy custodial sentence, Khan would continue to pose a ‘significant risk to the public’ because he was ‘working towards a more ambitious and more serious jihadist agenda’. 

Usman Khan (pictured) was convicted for being part of a plot to bomb the London Stock Exchange

Rejecting Khan’s hollow claims of repentance – which came in the form of a personal letter – the judge ordered him to serve an indeterminate sentence for public protection in 2012.

This technically limitless jail term meant he would be released only if and when a parole board was convinced he no longer posed a threat.

Mr Justice Wilkie concluded that the public could not be ‘adequately protected’ if Khan was allowed to serve part of his sentence ‘on licence’ in the community.

His warning was grimly prophetic.

Six years later, Khan was released from a maximum security prison on licence.

After pretending he had rejected Islamic extremism, the 28-year-old quickly became the ‘poster boy’ for the prisoner rehabilitation system.

Astonishingly, he was given permission by the probation service and the police to travel from his bedsit in Stafford to a prisoner rehabilitation conference at Fishmongers’ Hall on November 29, 2019.

During a break, he taped a knife to each hand and fatally stabbed Cambridge graduates Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23, before injuring three others.

It is a tragedy that could have been avoided had Mr Justice Wilkie’s warning been heeded.

Khan taped a knife to each hand and fatally stabbed Cambridge graduates Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23

The inquest, which ended yesterday, has heard how Khan ‘played the system’ as soon as he started his prison term.

The British-born son of Pakistani immigrants wrote to the Home Office from his cell at Belmarsh, begging to join a deradicalisation scheme to prove he no longer harboured extremist views or posed a threat. Insisting his conviction stemmed from immaturity, he wrote: ‘Now I am much more mature and want to live my life as a good Muslim and also a good citizen of Britain.’

Using legal aid, Khan appealed his original sentence and in 2013 three Appeal Court judges, led by Sir Brian Leveson, concluded it was wrong for Mr Justice Wilkie to have handed Khan a tougher sentence than some of the others in the terror cell.

Sir Brian scrapped Khan’s indeterminate sentence, handing him a 16-year jail term instead, meaning he would be automatically released after eight years.

He had already served three of these, so was due out after just five more.

Khan’s behaviour in jail, however, was at complete odds with his pretence to officials that he was a reformed character.

Jurors concluded that ‘missed opportunities’ by the agencies contributed to the killing of Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23, by jihadi Usman Khan

Throughout his eight years inside, he tried to radicalise, bully and forcibly convert other prisoners. The jihadi became a ‘Muslim enforcer’ and ordered a string of violent attacks on non-Muslim inmates and staff.

He was recorded in Belmarsh saying he ‘wants to come from behind someone and do him in the neck’ and that he wanted ‘to die and go to paradise’. Around the same time he was pleading his innocence to the Home Office, Khan leapt on to security netting in prison and shouted: ‘Cut off the kafir’s (disbeliever’s) head.’

On another night of ‘concerted indiscipline’, he almost broke through to the cell of a neighbouring inmate and was found with the prison governor’s home address.

At Belmarsh, he asked to be placed in segregation so that he would be close to notorious hate preacher Abu Hamza, who is now in a US prison for plotting to set up a terrorist training camp.

In March 2017 he was heard discussing Islam through his cell window with Michael Adebolajo, who is serving a full life term for murdering Fusilier Lee Rigby in 2013.

Prison officers also discovered that he was hoarding a prescription medicine which can be used as a component in improvised explosive devices and found him with a concealed razor blade.

Throughout his sentence Khan was graded a ‘high risk’ prisoner ‘whose escape would be highly dangerous’

Jail bosses were so concerned about his behaviour that they moved him nine times between seven different prisons.

Throughout his sentence Khan was graded a ‘high risk’ prisoner ‘whose escape would be highly dangerous’. There are fewer than 100 such inmates in the entire British prison population of more than 80,000 at any one time.

In all, his extremist behaviour in jail had generated more than 40 reports spanning 2,000 pages.

As his release date approached, he claimed he had mended his ways. But intelligence reports suggested otherwise.

They found he was using taqiyya – a permissible form of telling lies to advance Islam – during deradicalisation sessions to ‘play the system’. Officials concluded that he was ‘deceptively compliant’ so he could ‘creep below the radar’ of counter-terrorism officers.

In a risk guidance report, a psychologist warned Khan had made ‘little progress’ in prison and that his risk to society was potentially worse than before he was jailed.

Ieva Cechaviciute told the inquest: ‘Knowing the content of my assessment, I was very worried. I summarised quite bluntly my assessment of his risk.’

The experienced prison psychologist said she noticed an ‘underlying anger and bitterness’ in him, and was ‘quite certain’ that he was trying to trick those who were assessing him. This damning verdict was backed up by an intelligence report which recorded Khan as saying he would ‘return to his old ways’ when he was freed.

He was classified as a ‘very high risk to the public’ and as having shown ‘no substantive progress’. Despite these grave concerns, he was released on Christmas Eve 2018 because he had served half his sentence.

Under the terms of his 22 licence conditions, Khan was required to wear an electronic tag, banned from using the internet without supervision, subjected to a curfew and his movements around the country were severely restricted.

He was also assigned a specialist anti-extremist parole officer, as well as being monitored by police and MI5. Immediately, Khan set about trying to convince them that he was a reformed man.

PC Victoria Barker, part of Staffordshire Police’s deradicalisation team, found him friendly and ‘never thought in a million years’ he would launch an attack.

Throughout 2019, Khan ensured he complied with all his licence conditions and ingratiated himself with Learning Together, a prisoner rehabilitation workshop.

He expressed a desire to work with police and Muslim youths to stop them becoming radicalised.

Prison chiefs, probation staff, criminologists and even some police officers believed him.

William Styles, now a deputy dir-ector at the prison service, is alleged to have said in June 2019: ‘Usman is a good man and has completely reformed.’ Mr Styles denies using the word ‘completely’.

Just three days before he carried out his attack, Khan told employment centre manager Julia Nix: ‘I am 100 per cent sure I don’t have any terrorist thoughts at all.’

The following day, probation officer Ken Skelton described Khan as ‘low risk’ – the first time he had been moved off ‘high risk’ since his arrest nine years earlier.

In a 14-page report, Mr Skelton wrote that Khan’s ‘likelihood of reoffending is low and the risk of extremism is low’.

That prevailing view meant Khan was allowed to travel without a police escort to central London for the first time since his release and commit the atrocity.

During the inquest, Jonathan Hough QC told Mr Skelton: ‘You place a lot of reliance, not only on Usman Khan’s compliance, but on him being honest with you. He had been constantly dishonest about his previous offending.’ Asked if he ‘honestly thought’ it was safe for Khan to travel to London, Mr Skelton replied: ‘I was not getting intelligence or information from the police that would suggest otherwise.’ But it has since emerged that there was evidence that the extremist intended to carry out an attack.

The deputy director of MI5 admitted that it had intelligence that Khan wanted to ‘die and go to paradise’. The agency had been passed two key pieces of intelligence suggesting Khan ‘wanted to return to his old ways’ and ‘planned to carry out an attack’.

Both pieces of information were ‘uncorroborated’ and of ‘unknown validity’, and were not shared with other agencies who were monitoring him. Had this happened, the probation service and others might not have taken such a rosy view of Khan.

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