London Bridge victim was first to confront Usman Khan, witness reveals

London Bridge victim Jack Merritt was the first person to confront Usman Khan when he launched his deadly knife attack, witness reveals

  • Professor Bryonn Bain, of UCLA, was giving a talk at the Fishmonger’s Hall Friday
  • He had heard shouting from downstairs before rushing down to see Jack Merritt
  • He described Mr Merritt acting bravely in confronting Usman Khan at the door
  • ‘I saw people die,’ Prof Bain said. ‘I saw things that I’ll never be able to unsee’

A London Bridge attack witness has praised Jack Merritt for being the first to confront terrorist Usman Khan when he launched his deadly knife assault.

Professor Bryonn Bain, of UCLA, said he wanted to honour Mr Merritt, 25, for standing up to Khan at the doors of Fishmonger’s Hall on Friday. 

Mr Merritt, who was working at the prisoner rehabilitation event, was killed by Khan as he rampaged through the building armed with knives.

‘He was brave,’ Prof. Bain told the BBC, ‘He was the first line of defence, he was the first person to confront him at the door. So I want to honour him.

‘I want to honour his father’s wishes which have been explicit to not have his life be used for political purposes to ramp up draconian policies, because that’s not what he was about.’

‘He was brave,’ Prof. Bain told the BBC , ‘He was the first line of defence, he was the first person to confront him at the door. So I want to honour him’

Mr Merritt’s father David last night furiously condemned those who would use his son’s death ‘to promote vile propaganda.’

Prof. Bain, who had travelled from the States to talk about prisoner rehabilitation at Fishmonger’s Hall, described how he had first heard shouting from downstairs.

He initially believed it to be a dispute which would be resolved but the shouting only grew louder and so he dashed downstairs.

‘I was able to see the attacker, I was able to see, you know, I saw people die.’ Prof. Bain told the BBC. ‘You know I saw things that I’m never going to be able to unsee and I want to make sure that as much as possible that we uphold the heroes of the day.

‘They were formerly incarcerated people, some of the folks who are often easiest to dehumanise. They stepped up and many of the folks in that space would not be here today if it weren’t for these guys who did time in prison and literally saved lives.’ 

Mr Merritt and fellow Cambridge graduate Saskia Jones, 23, were both stabbed by Khan during a prisoner rehabilitation event they were working at on Friday.

Former University of Cambridge students Saskia Jones, 23, (left) and Mr Merritt, 25, (right) were fatally stabbed during a prisoner rehabilitation event on Friday

Friends of Miss Jones today told ITV News she was a ‘powerful force of nature’ and an ‘inspiration.’

Dan Row told the broadcaster that he had laid flowers at the site of the attack, saying: ‘I didn’t feel like I had to, I felt like a really wanted to … it’s a kind of thank you, for everything that you have inspired me to do.’

He added that ‘the smallest of problems, Saskia would be the first to help you.’

Another friend of Miss Jones’, Lauren Calder said: ‘She has always been a hero. She was always helping other people. I’m just going to miss her so much’.

She added that the day before the attack she had been for a drink with Miss Jones who had described her wish to join the police force.

Miss Calder said that Miss Jones ‘would have gone and saved Jack in a heartbeat.’

Today, Mr Merritt’s girlfriend Leanne O’Brien cried and held a cuddly toy as she was supported by family and friends at an event in Cambridge to remember her boyfriend and his colleague Miss Jones. 

Leanne O’Brien (front centre), the girlfriend of Jack Merritt, weeps and holds a cuddly toy during a vigil in Cambridge today. Pictured (front row, from left): Mr Merritt’s mother Anne, Miss O’Brien’s mother Mac, Miss O’Brien, Mr Merritt’s father David and Miss O’Brien’s father Jeff

Miss O’Brien was at the front of a crowd of mourners this morning along with Mr Merritt’s mother Anne, who held her hand, Mr Merritt’s father David, and Miss O’Brien’s mother Mac and father Jeff.

The Cambridge vigil took place as Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn stood side-by-side to pay their respects at a separate event at Guildhall Yard in London, observing a minute’s silence alongside members of the public.

It came as MPs became further embroiled in an intensifying political row over which party was to blame for the early release of the attacker, who was allowed out halfway through a 16-year jail term for terrorism.

Mr Johnson has been criticised by Mr Merritt’s father for ‘politicising’ the attack and promising tougher sentencing rules to prevent the early release of terrorists. 

Khan, 28, of Stoke, was on licence and wearing an electronic monitoring tag when he launched the attack, which injured three others, after he was invited to the prisoner rehabilitation conference on Friday afternoon

But the Prime Minister today denied exploiting the terror attack for political purposes, saying: ‘Of course I feel as everybody does huge amount of sympathy for the loss of Jack Merritt’s family and all the relatives of Jack and Saskia, but be in no doubt I have campaigned against early release and short sentences for many years. It was in my manifesto in 2012… We have too many people released automatically on our streets.’ 

In London today, Mr Johnson and Mr Corbyn were joined by Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, who called for people to come together after the killings and work for a future ‘not defined by hatred but defined by hope, unity and love’.

After a minute’s silence at 11am, he said: ‘We come together this morning as Londoners to remember, to honour and to mourn the innocent lives lost as a result of this horrific terrorist attack on Friday.’ 

He added: ‘The best way to defeat this hatred is not by turning on one another but by focusing on the values that bind us.’

Khan, 28, of Stoke, was on licence and wearing an electronic monitoring tag when he launched the attack, which injured three others, after he was invited to the prisoner rehabilitation conference on Friday afternoon.

The event was organised held by Learning Together, a programme associated with Cambridge University’s Institute of Criminology.

Mr Johnson and Mr Corbyn take part in the vigil in London today to honour the victims of the London Bridge terror attack

The attack has prompted the Ministry of Justice to review the licence conditions of every convicted terrorist released from prison, which the Prime Minister said was ‘probably about 74’ people.

Mr Johnson has vowed to take steps to ensure people are not released early when they commit serious offences.

But the family of Mr Merritt, from Cottenham, Cambridgeshire, asked for his death to not to be used to justify introducing ‘even more draconian sentences’ on offenders in a heartfelt tribute released on Sunday.

They said: ‘He lit up our lives and the lives of his many friends and colleagues, and we will miss him terribly.

‘Jack lived his principles; he believed in redemption and rehabilitation, not revenge, and he always took the side of the underdog.

‘We know Jack would not want this terrible, isolated incident to be used as a pretext by the government for introducing even more draconian sentences on prisoners, or for detaining people in prison for longer than necessary.’ 

Jack Merritt (pictured centre) was one of the victims of the London Bridge terror attack. His father David (left) has condemned politicisation of the attack 

Mr Merritt’s girlfriend, veterinary science student Miss O’Brien, learned of her boyfriend’s murder just weeks after they had enjoyed a romantic trip to Seville, Spain, to celebrate his 25th birthday. 

Miss Jones, a volunteer with Learning Together from Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, was described as having a ‘great passion’ for providing support to victims of crime by her family.

In a statement, they said: ‘She was intent on living life to the full and had a wonderful thirst for knowledge, enabling her to be the best she could be.

‘Saskia had a great passion for providing invaluable support to victims of criminal injustice, which led her to the point of recently applying for the police graduate recruitment programme, wishing to specialise in victim support.’

Khan, who was living in Stafford, was given permission to travel into the heart of London by police and the Probation Service.

Convicted of terror offences in February 2012, he was released from prison on licence in December 2018, halfway through his 16-year prison sentence.

He launched the fatal attack at the Learning Together event just before 2pm on Friday.

Armed with two knives and wearing a fake suicide vest, he was tackled by members of the public, including ex-offenders from the conference, before he was shot dead by police.

One of the three people injured in the attack has been allowed to return home while the other two remain in a stable condition in hospital. No-one else is being sought over the attack.   

Why was Usman Khan freed from jail? How terrorist was released after serving eight years for plotting to blow up the Stock Exchange 

When was Khan jailed and for how long?

Khan was given an open-ended jail term – known as an ‘imprisonment for public protection’, or IPP – in January 2012 at Woolwich Crown Court after pleading guilty to one count of ‘engaging in conduct in preparation for acts of terrorism’. The sentencing judge Mr Justice Wilkie specified a minimum custodial term of eight years. But to secure his freedom, Khan would have to convince the Parole Board that he no longer posed a risk.

What happened then?

In an appeal in March 2013, Khan’s lawyers won their case – and he was given a term with a definitive end point. The need for Khan’s release to be approved by the Parole Board was also dropped. Appeal judges imposed an extended sentence of 21 years which comprised a custodial element of 16 years and a five-year ‘extension period’. The 16-year custodial element meant he was eligible for release at the halfway point – eight years.

Why is only half of a sentence served?

It has been a convention since the 1960s that half of a term is served in prisons. The rest of a sentence is served ‘on licence’, when an offender can be quickly sent back to jail if they fail to behave.

When was Khan finally freed?

The Parole Board was quick to point out after Friday’s attack that Khan’s release was not referred to them – he was automatically released at the halfway point. He remained on ‘extended licence’ and had to report to police and probation officers, wear a GPS electronic tag and fulfil other requirements.

How did laws passed by a former Labour government affect the Court of Appeal’s options?

PM Boris Johnson has said Khan had to be ‘automatically released half-way through’ because of changes Labour made in 2008 to Extended Sentences for Public Protection or EPPs. This is correct.

Until 2008, anyone on an EPP had to have their release approved by the Parole Board. If they were refused, the board could keep them in jail up to the end of their custodial period, which in Khan’s case was 16 years.

But in mid-2008, Labour made release automatic halfway through.However, the Court of Appeal could potentially have upheld the original IPP sentence.

How can ministers toughen up the sentencing of terrorists?

Khan’s atrocity has reignited debate over whether there is now a case to remove entitlement to early release for convicted terrorists.

PM Boris Johnson has already said they should be made to serve ‘every day’ of their terms. Some important steps have already been taken.

Extended Determinate Sentences (EDS), brought in in 2012, only allow convicted terrorists to apply for parole two-thirds through their sentence, with no automatic entitlement for release.

The Counter Terrorism and Border Security Act, which won Royal Assent in February, toughens jail terms for a range of offences and – crucially –makes it easier to keep terror suspects behind bars beyond the halfway point. It extended two types of sentence – the EDS and Sentences for Offenders of Particular Concern (SOPC) – to a number of middle-ranking terror offences.

A clearer structure could set out underlining principles such as whether early release is allowed, and whether the Parole Board or ministers should approve any release before it takes place rather than it taking place automatically.

A clearer structure would help underline how the justice system should deal with terrorists.

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