Fishmongers' Hall bosses were not told ex-offenders would be attending

Fishmongers’ Hall bosses were ‘in the dark’ about who was invited to prisoner rehab conference where Usman Khan killed two and ‘bitterly wish’ they were told that a convicted terrorist was on the guest list

  • Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23, were both killed at Fishmongers’ Hall 
  • Venue owners revealed today they were not warned ex-offenders would attend
  • Clerk of the hall said had they known about Khan they would ‘not hold that event’

The owners of the venue where a prison rehabilitation conference was attacked by knife-wielding extremist guest Usman Khan were not told it would be attended by former killers, terrorists and offenders. 

Jihadist Khan – who had been invited to the meeting – stabbed Cambridge University project workers Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23, at Fishmongers’ Hall on November 29, 2019.

In incendiary evidence to their inquest today, the clerk of Fishmongers Company told the jury they had no idea ex-offenders would be intending.

Instead Commodore Toby Williamson said – despite trying to find out more ahead of the event – they were only given a list of alphabetical names with no further detail.

He said: ‘A terrorist offender with a short track record out of prison is one I bitterly wish we had had before hand and could have done something about – which would mean we could not hold that event.

Usman Khan during a ‘thank-you’ message for a Learning Together event in Cambridge in 2019

Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23, were killed at Fishmongers’ Hall on November 29, 2019

‘The clarity of the language was not what I wish it had been.

‘I don’t think any of my team appreciated that the alumni was referring directly to ex-offenders and certainly not people currently in custody.’

‘There was more than one email asking “what is the audience?”,’ but he said: ‘We didn’t have the level of detail that we all have now. We had an alphabetical list of names.’ 

Simon Larmour, John Crilly and Usman Khan at Euston Station in London on the way to the hall

Victim Saskia Jones sat alongside Usman Khan at a prisoner rehabilitation event in London

Usman Khan, 28, who was armed with two knives and wore a fake suicide vest, was tackled by members of the public

How the Fishmongers’ Hall attack unfolded

  • March 10 1991: Usman Khan is born in Stoke-on-Trent.
  • 2010: Aged 19, Khan is convicted of terrorism offences and spends the next eight years in jail. In that time, he becomes involved with Learning Together organisation.
  • December 2018: Khan is released from jail on various licence conditions and lives in Stafford.
  • March 2019: Khan maintains contact with Learning Together and is involved with filming a video for the organisation.
  • June 2019: He attends a Learning Together event at one of his former prisons, HMP Whitemoor.
  • November 29, 2019, 7.30am: Khan travels by train from Stafford to Euston Station in London. He is met at the station by a Learning Together staff member and he travels by Tube and foot to Fishmongers’ Hall near London Bridge. On route to London, it is believed Khan straps a fake suicide belt around his waist and covers it with his jacket.
  • 11am to noon: The delegates attend a brunch at Fishmongers’ Hall.
  • 11.56am: Video footage shows Khan talking ‘animatedly’ with Saskia Jones at a table, even though they had not known each other before.
  • 12noon: The main Learning Together sessions get under way with speeches in the Banqueting Hall followed by breakout sessions until 1.30pm.
  • 1.37pm: Jack Merritt leaves the building briefly, returning at 1.40pm.
  • 1.45pm: A further breakout session is due to begin but Khan goes down to the toilets on the ground floor next to the reception area.
  • Around 1.53pm: Mr Merritt goes to the gents toilets.
  • Between 1.56-1.57pm: Khan launches his attack in the men’s toilets at Fishmongers’ Hall with two knives strapped into his hands. As he prepares, he leaves a bag containing a third blade in a cubicle and drops a prayer book on the floor. He encounters Mr Merritt in the toilets and stabs him multiple times, causing 12 injuries including a fatal wound to the chest. Khan makes his way to the cloakroom area, where he gestured to a member of staff ‘as if to be quiet’. He stabs Ms Jones once in the neck. She staggers up a few steps before collapsing. Khan goes on to stab Stephanie Szczotko in the arm at the bottom of the stairs before stabbing Isobel Rowbotham in the main reception. Over the next few minutes, Khan is confronted by a number of people who take items from the walls to defend themselves, including a ornamental pike and narwhal tusks. Khan returns to attack Ms Rowbotham again as she lies on the ground. He also injures the Fishmongers’ Hall porter Lukasz Koczocik, who suffers a stab to the arm. Khan forces a member of staff to open the doors by holding a knife to his chest. He tries to chase a member of the public back inside the hall but is unsuccessful.
  • 1.58pm: Police receive a call to attend the scene.
  • Around 2.01pm: Khan is pursued on to London Bridge by John Crilly, Steven Gallant and Darryn Frost. During a confrontation on the bridge, Mr Crilly sprays a fire extinguisher at him and Mr Frost jabs at him with a narwhal tusk before they all tackled Khan to the ground with other members of the public.
  • 2.02pm: Armed City of London Police officers arrive on the bridge and tell members of the public to stand back. Khan is shot and Tasered by police, causing him to writhe on the ground.
  • 2.10pm: Khan is shot again due to the alleged ‘threat’ from what police believed was an improvised explosive device strapped to his body.
  • 2.12pm Khan no longer shows any signs of life.
  • 2.25pm Ms Jones is pronounced dead from a single neck wound.
  • 2.33pm: Mr Merritt is pronounced dead. A post-mortem examination later confirms he suffered multiple knife wounds, including some defensive injuries. The fatal wound is to the chest.
  • 2.41pm: An explosives officer moves towards Khan with armed officers and concludes the IED is fake.
  • 3.07pm: Khan’s life is pronounced extinct.

Khan, who was wearing a fake suicide vest, was shot dead by armed police on London Bridge, 13 minutes after the attack began.

The Fishmongers Company had a history of high profile guests including a serving Prime Minister and the Princess Royal, but had only done bag searches on one occasion, the inquest was told.

They had never considered introducing metal detectors at the entrance to their hall because they wanted to maintain a ‘degree of accessibility’, the inquest into the victims was told  

The company still works with rehabilitation charities but now has a presumption against events involving high risk individuals and convicted prisoners, the inquest was told.

Fishmongers Company, which had agreed to donate £40,000 to the project and sent staff to previous events, had not appreciated that ‘alumni’ would include prisoners with previous convictions. 

Henry Pitchers QC, counsel for the Jones family, asked: ‘Those responsible for making decisions were really in the dark about this event?’

‘That is correct,’ Commodore Williamson said.

Amy Ludlow and Lisa Armstrong from Learning Together, had told the inquest they relied on the Fishmongers Hall for security and the Fishmongers Hall said they relied on Learning Together for information on the guests.

Jonathan Hough QC, for the coroner, said: ‘With two organisations taking those views, are there risks of concerns slipping though the crack between the two?’

‘I agree,’ the commodore said.

The Fishmongers’ Company, one of the oldest livery companies in the City of London, has been the guild for fishermen in the capital for seven centuries.

It hosts 200 events a year at its historic hall on the River Thames and the event on Friday November 29 2019 was the eighth that week, the inquest heard.

Princess Anne, the Princess Royal, is a member of the ‘court company’ and visits the hall around a dozen times a year, the inquest was told.

The hall has also hosted a Bank of England conference with a serving Prime Minister, a previous Prime Minister, and a ‘whole host of financial luminaries from across the world.’

The hall had CCTV on the outside and self-locking doors, but had only ever conducted security checks on guests on one occasion when Prince Charles had visited.

Mr Hough asked: ‘Do you own any knife arches or metal detector equipment, did you ever borrow or rent such equipment for events, did you ever consider it?’

Commodore Williamson said there had been ‘no serious consideration’ but it was ‘always something that sits in my mind beforehand because it is one of many layers of security that you can add.’

But he said the company wanted ‘a degree of accessibility for our members and our client organisations.’

The events ran on a ‘familiar template’ adding: ‘The aircraft is always safe to fly no matter who you take on board.’

By always getting a guest list they had a ‘good idea’ of who the guests were.

But Mr Hough asked: ‘When you weren’t dealing with VIPs you didn’t give consideration to adding extra levels of protection for an event due to nature of attendees?’

‘Yes,’ the commodore said.

The head of facilities and the security supervisor had attended a half day ‘terrorism awareness training’ curse at another livery company in July 2019.

But a review by an outside company, Control Risks, in September 2018, had found a ‘lack of documented security procedures’ and a ‘lack of internal access control measures.’

But ‘key controls’ were said to be key controls the terrorism awareness training, the

low profile nature of the company and the ‘avoidance of controversial charitable activities’ along with a ‘visible security perimeter.’

In March last year, four months after the attack, they purchased a knife arch, although it has never been used because of lockdown, the commodore said.

Mr Hough asked: ‘Metal detectors and knife arches of this kind are used in buildings up and down the country because they provide a degree of protection or at least knowledge at the point of entry?’ 

A Metropolitan Police photograph of an improvised explosive device which was shown during the inquest

A view of the Old Library in Guildhall, London, where the inquest into the terror attack at the Fishmongers’ Hall in London on November 29 2019, is being held into the victims’ deaths

Jack Merritt is seen on CCTV arriving at the prisoner rehabilitation event at Fishmongers’ Hall on November 29, 2019

‘They provide deterrence yes,’ the commodore said.

The inquest continues.

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