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Mother of London Bridge victim tells inquest he was ‘force for good’

The Guardian - Mon Apr 12 15:24

The mother of a victim of the London Bridge terrorist attack has described how her son was a “force for good in the world”, as an inquest heard how his killer taped knives to his hands in a toilet cubicle before killing two people and injuring three.

The jury for the inquest into the deaths of Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23, were shown photographs of knives, together with tape and scissors that Usman Khan left in a cubicle before beginning his attack at 1.56pm on 29 November 2019 at a prisoner rehabilitation conference at Fishmongers’ Hall.

The jury was also shown a picture of the prayer book Fortress of the Muslim, which Khan dropped while he attacked Merritt. DCI Dan Brown from Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorism unit said: “It’s not an extremist book or anything like that it’s just simply a general book of prayer.”

Despite his injuries, Merritt, a course coordinator for Learning Together, which was hosting the conference, managed to make it to the reception area of the building. The jury was shown graphic images of a small office where attempts to save him failed. It was also told that Merritt knew his attacker and had communicated with him before the conference.

The inquest was shown CCTV images of Khan eating lunch at the same table as his second victim, Jones, a volunteer.

Jones was checking in an item at the cloakroom when Khan emerged from the toilet after attacking Merritt. Still armed with two knives, Khan gestured to the cloakroom assistant to be quiet before attacking Jones, Brown said. “He stabbed her once to the neck,” he said.

Seconds later Khan stabbed two other people at the conference, Stephanie Szczotko and Isobel Rowbotham, who both later recovered from their injuries, the inquest heard.

Several attendees, armed with a narwhal tusk, fire extinguisher and ornamental pike, fought back and drove Khan out on to London Bridge, the inquest heard. Pictures of the make-do weapons were shown to the jury, who were told that during the struggle Khan stabbed a porter named Lukasz.

After being forced out of Fishmongers’ Hall, Khan was Tasered and shot dead by police, the inquest was told. It also heard moving tributes to the victims. Merritt’s mother, Anne, said: “Jack was a force for good in the world, someone who made other people’s lives better for knowing him. We are hugely proud of who Jack was and what he stood for.

“Jack’s death was a tragedy but his life was a triumph.”

She read out tributes from his friends, relations and colleagues. They included a note from Merritt’s girlfriend, Leanne O’Brien, who said: “Jack fit perfectly into my life, and was my biggest support and number one fan, he always got me through the really tough times when I really didn’t believe I could myself.”

In a statement read to the jury, Jones’s family said: “It would be her hope that no other family is devastated and heartbroken again in similar circumstances. She should be defined as someone who battled to improve the lives of others.”

It said her research into sexual violence at Cambridge University had led to a plan for her to become a police detective in victim support.

Khan was 28 years old at the time of the attack and had been released on licence in 2018 after spending eight years in prison for terrorism offences, the inquest heard. After an “extensive” police investigation, Brown said: “We are satisfied he acted completely alone in this attack.”

One of the 8in kitchen knives used in the attacks had been marked with a “crude effort to inscribe a symbol in Arabic, that means Allah or God”, Brown said.

The inquest, heard before the coroner Mark Lucraft, was also given details of a fake suicide vest worn by Khan during the attack. Brown said it was made up of a slimming vest, Xbox components, bandages wrapped in clingfilm and a battery charger.

Police believe Khan attached the vest during a train journey from his home in Stafford to Euston station in London, Brown said. He also told the jury that Khan was wearing an oversized coat to conceal the fake vest.

The inquest, which is expected to last for several weeks, continues. It will be followed by a separate jury inquest into the death of Khan.