Met Police chief praises ‘incredible acts of bravery’ in confronting London Bridge attacker
The Met Police’s Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu has praised the “truly incredible acts of bravery” from both members of the public and officers in confronting London Bridge attacker Usman Khan.
Among those who tackled the 28-year-old following his murderous attack was a British Transport Police officer in plain clothes, he confirmed.
Khan killed two people, including 25-year-old University of Cambridge postgraduate and course co-ordinator Jack Merritt, from Cottenham, and a woman, who has yet to be named, and left three people injured when he launched his stab attack at Fishmongers’ Hall, on the north side of London Bridge, just before 2pm on Friday.
The hall was the venue for a five-year anniversary conference organised by Learning Together, a prison rehabilitation initiative run by the Institute of Criminology at the University of Cambridge.
Jack Merritt was co-ordinator for the programme, and Khan was among the guests, having taken a Learning Together course while at HMP Whitemoor, near March in Cambridgeshire.
Khan was let out on licence last year, after being jailed in 2012 for his part in an al Qaida-inspired plot to blow up buildings including the London Stock Exchange and the US Embassy in London, and attack other targets. He had originally been given an indeterminate sentence, but the Court of Appeal changed this to a 16-year determinate sentence.
According to Mr Basu, there was an “extensive list of licence conditions” imposed when Khan was let out, as the law requires, halfway through his time served.
“To the best of my knowledge, he was complying with those conditions,” added Mr Basu.
It is understood that Khan went to Friday’s conference unsupervised, after discussion between probation officers and police.
After launching his attack, Khan was tackled by others attending the conference, despite him wearing a “very convincing explosive device” that is now known to be a hoax. One used a fire extinguisher to spray water at him, while witnesses have described how a Polish chef called Lukasz grabbed a narwhal tusk from Fishmongers’ Hall and used it to confront Khan. Lukasz, who is to be honoured by Poland for his actions, was injured in the incident and remained in hospital on Sunday.
Mr Basu called their actions “remarkable”.
It has been reported that convicted murderer James Ford, 42, from Willesborough, Ashford, in Kent, was among those who tackled the assailant. Ford was jailed for life in 2004 for the murder of Amanda Champion, a 21-year-old with learning difficulties.
Meanwhile, a letter written by Khan from prison in 2012 emerged, in which he asked for a course to be arranged so he could “properly learn Islam and its teachings” and “prove I don’t carry the extreme views which I might have carried before”.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “This system has got to end – I repeat, this has got to end, as I’ve been saying for four months.
“If you are convicted of a serious terrorist offence, there should be a mandatory minimum sentence of 14 years – and some should never be released.
“Further, for all terrorism and extremist offences the sentence announced by the judge must be the time actually served – these criminals must serve every day of their sentence, with no exceptions.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “Clearly there has been a complete disaster in that lives have been lost because of his [Khan’s] behaviour.
“I think there is also a question about what the Probation Office were doing – were they involved at all – and whether the Parole Board should have been involved in deciding whether or not he should have been allowed to be released from prison in the first place, and also what happened in prison?"
“That somebody who clearly was a danger to society - was he given a deradicalisation programme or not?
“I don’t know the answer to those questions. We need to all know the answer to those questions urgently.”
Jack Merritt’s father, David, wrote in a tweet: “My son, Jack, who was killed in this attack, would not wish his death to be used as the pretext for more draconian sentences or for detaining people unnecessarily. R.I.P. Jack: you were a beautiful spirit who always took the side of the underdog.”
He added: “Cambridge lost a proud son and a champion for underdogs everywhere, but especially those dealt a losing hand by life, who ended up in the prison system.”
Mr Merritt also responded to the idea that early releases put people at risk, saying: “The problem is with the lack of supervision and rehabilitation post-release, not too-short sentences. Services have been cut to the bone and we are all less safe as a result.”
The University of Cambridge’s vice chancellor, Prof Stephen Toope, has said he was “devastated” by the attack.
Parliamentary candidates came together at Great St Mary’s Church in Cambridge for a vigil and service on Saturday afternoon, instead of the scheduled hustings event.
And many college buildings were flying their flags at half-mast.
On Monday, a one-minute silence will take place outside the Guildhall in Cambridge.
Update from Met Police’s assistant commissioner Neil Basu’s in full
Assistant commissioner Neil Basu, from the Met Police, said: “Officers from the Counter Terrorism Command have been working flat out with our security services as you would expect as we continue to try and establish the full circumstances of what happened.
“At this time, we have found no evidence to suggest anybody else was involved in this attack. However, we are still making extensive enquiries to ensure there were no other people involved. Our investigative priority at this time is to ensure that there is no related outstanding threat to the public.
“To this end, we have carried out two searches at addresses both in the Staffordshire and Stoke areas. Our officers are being supported with this by officers from Staffordshire and the West Midlands Counter Terrorism Police.
“I would like to thank them, as well as the local community in those areas, for the support they’ve shown as we carry out these crucial enquiries.
“The investigation team has also spoken to many of those who were present at Fishmongers’ Hall, but I would appeal to anyone who was there on Friday, or anyone who hasn’t been spoken to, to contact police on 0800 789 321 immediately.
“We now know that this attack began inside Fishmongers’ Hall just before 2pm yesterday. The attacker, whose identity we confirmed last night, stabbed a number of people inside the building and as a result, five people have suffered injuries.
“Three people – a man and two women – were injured and remain in hospital. Their families have been contacted and specialist officers are supporting them.
“Tragically, two people – a man and a woman – were killed during the attack.”
He said he was awaiting the coroner’s report before formally naming the victims.
The assistant commissioner continued: “On behalf of the entire policing family, I would like to offer my heartfelt thoughts and condolences to all those families, both deceased and who still remain in hospital, and everyone affected by this tragedy.
“Whilst we’re still piecing together the exact details of what happened, what is already clear is that this cowardly act was immediately countered by some truly incredible acts of bravery by both members of the public and police officers.
“We know the attacker was attending an event, called ‘Learning Together’ and some of those present at that event confronted the attacker to try and stop him. The attacker then left the building and ended up on London Bridge, he was pursued and detained by members of the public, as well as a British Transport Police officer who was in plain clothes, before armed officers from both the City of London and Metropolitan Police arrived, confronted the attacker and shot him.
“The actions of the police and the public are all the more remarkable as we now know that the attacker was wearing what looked like a very convincing explosive device. Thankfully, we now know it be a hoax device.
“Detectives and forensic officers remain at the London Bridge area and cordons continue to be in place as we meticulously gather the evidence required for the investigation and this obviously may take some time. We’re working as fast as we can, we would ask the public to continue to avoid the area and we really thank those affected by this for their patience and understanding.
“On that point, can I also thank the public for their tremendous support and co-operation in response to this incident. The public have shared nearly 500 images and videos with the investigation team so far and I am incredibly grateful for this. But again if you have any images, any video, and you haven’t spoken to police, please do so as soon as possible.
“It is vital that the empty ideology of terror is rejected by all of us and that communities come together side-by-side to ensure that those seeking to divide us will never succeed.
“As a precaution, we have enhanced police patrols across London of both armed and unarmed officers. The public can expect to see an increased police presence throughout the weekend as colleagues from the Met, City of London and British Transport police carry out those patrols.
“Our advice to the public is to continue with your plans as usual. Please be vigilant but be alert, not alarmed. If you do see anything suspicious then, please ACT, and report it to police – either speak to an officer, call us on 0800 789 321 or report it via the ACT website at gov.uk/ACT.
“Countering terrorism is never something that can be done by any single agency on its own. It needs the co-operation and support from every corner of our society. The help and support we get from the public, and indeed the media, is a vital part of that, we are extremely grateful.I am grateful for your support.”
More by this authorPaul Brackley