Family anger over MI5 bid to keep terror attack evidence secret


Secret evidence could shed light on whether MI5 and police failed to prevent the Fishmongers’ Hall attack, a court has heard.

Cambridge University graduates Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23, were killed by convicted terrorist Usman Khan at a prisoner rehabilitation event near London Bridge on November 29 2019.

Khan, 28, who was armed with two knives and wore a fake suicide vest, was tackled by members of the public and then shot dead by police on London Bridge.

Jack Merritt, 25

Saskia Jones, 23

Cambridge University graduates Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23, were killed by convicted terrorist Usman Khan at a prisoner rehabilitation event near London Bridge on November 29 2019

A full inquest is due to start on April 12 before Coroner Mark Lucraft QC at the Guildhall in central London.

At a pre-inquest hearing on Thursday, a public interest immunity (PII) application was made for material to remain secret in the interests of national security.

Jesse Nicholls, for the Merritt family, said: ‘The evidence over which PII is claimed appears to be of central relevance to one of, if not the central issue in these inquests – whether the attack could and should have been prevented.

‘That is a matter of the greatest importance to Jack’s family and the wider public.’

He said the open evidence led to ‘significant concern that opportunities were missed to prevent Khan’s attack’.

He pointed out that Khan had previously been convicted of plotting to carry out attacks at central London landmarks and against high-profile individuals.

MI5 had long-held concerns about him and he was assessed at or near the ‘very highest level’ of risk up to his release from prison, the court heard.

Security services were informed that he intended to re-engage in terrorism-related activity, including carrying out an attack, following his release, Mr Nicholls said.

Usman Khan, pictured, stabbed Mr Merritt and Ms Jones before he was shot dead by police

Usman Khan, pictured, stabbed Mr Merritt and Ms Jones before he was shot dead by police 

And both MI5 and counter-terrorism police continued to have concerns about Khan in the months leading to the attack, it was alleged.

Khan was subject to active monitoring and MI5 was concerned that his apparent compliance may have been a manipulative attempt to avoid scrutiny from the authorities, the court heard.

On November 18 2019, just 11 days before the attack, MI5 and counter-terrorism police identified Khan as being increasingly withdrawn and at risk of re-engaging in Islamist extremist activity, it was claimed.

Even though they knew he was intending to travel to the Learning Together event in central London with high-profile guests, no steps were taken to stop him going or to alert organisers, Mr Nicholls said.

If the PII claim is upheld, the inquests would not ask and answer the ‘central questions’ and comply with the statutory duty of inquiry, he argued.

Mr Nicholls said the family would then invite the coroner to convene an inquiry.

He said the family do so ‘with their eyes open to the consequences’.

He added: ‘It is what Jack would have wanted. For them, they want it to be got right.’

Jonathan Hough QC, counsel to the inquests, said that if the PII application is successful, consideration should be made as to whether the inquest could carry out a ‘satisfactory’ investigation or if a public inquiry request is needed.

Khan was challenged outside the Fishmonger's Hall by members of the public before the arrival of police

Khan was challenged outside the Fishmonger’s Hall by members of the public before the arrival of police 

The inquest will include a large amount of witness and documentary evidence on the critical decision to allow Khan to travel to London, he said.

The security service’s ‘witness A’ could be questioned on key information received by MI5 and whether it was shared with others.

There is no suggestion that the PII material contains evidence of attack planning, the court was told.

Mr Hough said there is no evidence that Khan did anything in public that would point to attack planning or that he shared his plans with anyone.

Following submissions in open court, the pre-inquest hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice continued with the PII application in a closed hearing.

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