Fishmongers’ Hall attacker ‘was welcoming’ to police after jail release

Usman Khan

A police officer who monitored Fishmongers’ Hall attacker Usman Khan after he was released from prison has told a jury she was “shocked” by how friendly he was.

Constable Victoria Barker, from the counter-terrorism Prevent team with Staffordshire Police, said she had expected Khan to be aggressive and anti-authority but he was “the complete opposite”.

She met Khan three days after his release from prison in 2018, after he served eight years for his part in a plot to set up a terrorist training camp in Pakistan.

Khan murdered Cambridge graduates Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones at a prisoner education event at Fishmongers’ Hall in the City of London in November 2019.

Fishmongers’ Hall attacker ‘was welcoming’ to police after jail releaseJack Merritt and Saskia Jones (Family handout/Metropolitan Police/PA)

Pc Barker told the inquests into their deaths on Wednesday that when she first met Khan: “I was shocked.

“Being a police officer you’re used to people being aggressive… he wasn’t like that at all.

He was welcoming, he was very open. He shook my hand, he was quite friendly.

“I just thought he was going to be very anti-police, very anti-authority, very aggressive. He was the complete opposite of everything I thought.”

Later, just over a month before the attack, she thought he seemed “less chatty”, but was not concerned.

Pc Barker said Khan had asked for police to escort him to the Learning Together event at Fishmongers’ Hall, but the cost could not be justified and there was no legal requirement to do so.

She said: “It was a request from Usman to make him feel more comfortable.

“Who was going to justify us going and who was going to authorise us going?”

The inquests have already heard that responsibility for managing terrorist offenders passed to Staffordshire Police from a much larger team at West Midlands Police in 2015.

This differed from their usual job deterring people from extremism rather than dealing with convicted terrorists.

Fishmongers’ Hall attacker ‘was welcoming’ to police after jail releaseCCTV of Usman Khan on board a train to London hours before the attack (Metropolitan Police/PA)

Sergeant Calum Forsyth, who led the Staffordshire Prevent team, said his officers were given intelligence on a “need to know” basis rather than full access to systems used by Special Branch.

This was to maintain a “sterile corridor” so officers with face-to-face contact with Khan did not risk leaking intelligence.

Mr Forsyth had argued at offender assessment meetings that Khan should be allowed to train for a dump truck licence, although this was overruled by counter-terrorism officers.

He said the team was not informed of concerns about Khan becoming isolated and spending most of his time playing video games and watching DVDs when he moved into his own flat in October 2019.

He said: “We were getting nothing back to us to say ‘we are concerned about this and we want you to do something different’.”

The inquest was adjourned to Thursday.