Saturday 7 December 2019

'He lit up our lives' - families of victims of London Bridge terrorist attack pay tribute

Jack Merritt and (right) Saskia Jones died following the terrorist attack near to London Bridge
Photo credit: Metropolitan Police/PA Wire
Jack Merritt and (right) Saskia Jones died following the terrorist attack near to London Bridge Photo credit: Metropolitan Police/PA Wire
Jack Merritt died following the terrorist attack near to London Bridge Photo credit: Metropolitan Police/PA Wire

THE two people who died in a terrorist attack in London have been remembered by their families as kind, intelligent and caring people in an emotional tribute this evening.

The Metropolitan Police have named the man and woman who died in the terrorist attack near London Bridge on Friday as Jack Merritt, 25, of Cottenham, Cambridgeshire, and Saskia Jones, 23, of Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire.

Convicted terrorist Usman Khan was on licence and wearing an electronic monitoring tag when he attended a conference on prisoner rehabilitation hosted by Cambridge University scheme Learning Together at Fishmongers' Hall near London Bridge.

A statement from the university said: "Both were graduates of the University of Cambridge and were involved in the Learning Together programme - Jack as a co-ordinator and Saskia as a volunteer. Family liaison officers are supporting their families."

Ms Jones' family said that she was someone who always wanted to see the best in others.

They said in a statement that was issued through the Met Police: "Saskia was a funny, kind, positive influence at the centre of many people's lives.

"She had a wonderful sense of mischievous fun and was generous to the point of always wanting to see the best in all people.

"She was intent on living life to the full and had a wonderful thirst for knowledge, enabling her to be the best she could be.

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Saskia Jones Photo credit: Metropolitan Police/PA Wire

"Saskia had a great passion for providing invaluable support to victims of criminal injustice, which led her to the point of recently applying for the police graduate recruitment programme, wishing to specialise in victim support.

"This is an extremely painful time for the family. Saskia will leave a huge void in our lives and we would request that our privacy is fully respected."

Mr Merritt's family said he was a principled man who wanted to help people in the criminal justice system.

"Jack Merritt, our beautiful, talented boy, died doing what he loved, surrounded by people he loved and who loved him.

"He lit up our lives and the lives of his many friends and colleagues, and we will miss him terribly.

"Jack lived his principles; he believed in redemption and rehabilitation, not revenge, and he always took the side of the underdog.

"Jack was an intelligent, thoughtful and empathetic person who was looking forward to building a future with his girlfriend, Leanne, and making a career helping people in the criminal justice system.

"We know Jack would not want this terrible, isolated incident to be used as a pretext by the government for introducing even more draconian sentences on prisoners, or for detaining people in prison for longer than necessary," his family said.

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Jack Merritt died following the terrorist attack near to London Bridge Photo credit: Metropolitan Police/PA Wire

"Our thoughts go out to the relatives and friends of his friend and colleague who died with him in this incident, to the colleagues who were injured, and to his brilliant, supportive colleagues at the University of Cambridge Department of Criminology.

"We respectfully request that the media leave us to grieve in private at this very difficult time."

The attack has prompted the UK Ministry of Justice to review the licence conditions of every convicted terrorist released from prison, which Boris Johnson says is "probably about 74" people.

The Prime Minister told BBC One's the Andrew Marr Show that the other individuals were now "being properly invigilated to make sure there is no threat".

"I think it is ridiculous, I think it is repulsive, that individuals as dangerous as this man should be allowed out after serving only eight years and that's why we are going to change the law," he said on Sunday.

Pushed on what action is being taken, Mr Johnson said he did not want to go into the "operational details", but said: "I'm sure people can imagine what we're doing to ensure that 74 other individuals who've been let out early on the basis of this Labour change in legislation, they are being properly invigilated to make sure there is no threat."

Mr Johnson said Khan was under "various conditions", adding: "He had mentors, he had restrictions on his mobile phone, he had restrictions on internet access."

The medical director for the NHS in London, Dr Vin Diwakar, said on Sunday that one of the three people injured in the attack had been allowed to return home while the other two remain in a stable condition in hospital.

A line of police officers were seen on their hands and knees performing fingertip searches on the bridge on Sunday, which remained closed with vehicles and buses still stranded.

Khan, who was living in Stafford, was given permission to travel into the heart of London by police and the probation service. He had also been allowed to travel to Whitehall earlier in the year.

Armed with two knives and wearing a fake suicide vest, Khan was tackled by members of the public, including ex-offenders from the conference, before he was shot dead by police on London Bridge.

Footage posted online shows Khan being taken to the ground as one man sprays him with a fire extinguisher and another, reportedly a Polish man who worked at the Hall, lunges towards him with a narwhal tusk believed to have been taken from the wall inside the building.

Khan was part of an al Qaida-inspired terror group - linked to radical preacher Anjem Choudary - that plotted to bomb the London Stock Exchange and build a terrorist training camp on land in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir owned by his family.

A list of other potential targets included the names and addresses of the Dean of St Paul's Cathedral in London, then London mayor Mr Johnson, two rabbis, and the American Embassy in London.

In February 2012, Khan, who had been based in Stoke-on-Trent, was handed an indeterminate sentence for public protection, with a minimum term of eight years - meaning he could have been kept in prison for as long he was deemed to be a threat to the public.

The sentence was quashed at the Court of Appeal in April 2013 and he was given a determinate 16-year jail term, with a five-year extended licence period, under legislation which meant he was released automatically halfway through the sentence.

Sentencing law changed later in 2012, and if Khan was given the same sentence today he would have had to serve at least two-thirds and be released only if the Parole Board agreed.

Despite the law change coming into force before Khan's appeal, he could only be sentenced under legislation in force when he committed his offences.

The Islamic State terror group claimed responsibility for the attack, saying Khan was one of its fighters, but did not provide any evidence.

No-one else is being sought over the attack.

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