University of Cambridge’s Learning Together criticised following terror attack inquest
Saskia Jones' family have condemned the “seemingly scant regard” the University of Cambridge’s Learning Together programme had for the safety of those attending the Fishmongers’ Hall event where she was killed.
They said they were astounded and insulted by the failure to consider what should have been done differently and suggested a “single-minded” view of prisoner rehabilitation had “clouded” judgment.
The family’s comments followed the conclusion of the inquest into the deaths of Cambridge graduates Saskia, 23, from Statford-upon-Avon, and Jack Merritt, 25, from Cottenham.
They were stabbed to death by Usman Khan, a 28-year-old convicted terrorist who had been invited to attend the alumni event in London by Learning Together, a prisoner education and rehabilitation programme run by the university.
The inquest concluded they were “unlawfully killed” and found that multiple failures from the authorities, including MI5 and the police, contributed to their deaths.
Commenting on the evidence given by the Learning Together directors, Saskia’s uncle Philip Jones said on the family’s behalf: “It could be said that their single-minded view of the rehabilitation of offenders – using Usman Khan, in our view, as a ‘poster boy’ for their programme – significantly clouded their judgment.
“It seems there was no intent on their part to listen or take notice of what they were dealing with in working with such a high risk individual. Learning Together declined an opportunity to learn more about Usman Khan and his risk factors. This may have contributed to a failure to take account of the steps necessary to protect the safety and wellbeing of everyone involved. This view appears to have remained unchanged despite the events at Fishmongers Hall in November 2019.
“Their refusal when giving evidence adequately to review past behaviours within their organisation and to consider that they may have done things differently is astounding and insulting to the family.”
The University of Cambridge has previously described the Learning Together programme, hosted by its Institute of Criminology, as “unique and socially transformative”. It brought prisoners and non-prisoners together for educational opportunities.
Saskia, who was taking steps towards working in victim support services, had volunteered with the Learning Together programme.
But Mr Jones said: “It is important to us that we ensure that Saskia's legacy is not undermined by any association she had with Learning Together. It is clear to us that Saskia’s idea of rehabilitation was not consistent with the philosophy of Learning Together.
“Saskia’s key focus and priority had always been in relation to supporting survivors, particularly those survivors of sexual violence, in the context of violence against women and children.”
The family’s statement - reproduced in full below - also criticised The Fishmongers Company for failing to acknowledge in the inquest that “they could have avoided the murder of Saskia, with a little more common sense relating to what would amount to simple security measures”.
And the family criticised failings by other state agencies that failed to address the risk of allowing Khan - who had been under supervision by MI5 - to attend the event.
“It is beyond understanding and astonishing that not one of the state agencies sufficiently considered the associated risk and therefore questioned the wisdom of sending Usman Khan unaccompanied to London,” Mr Jones said.
The jury in the inquest found there was “unacceptable management, a lack of accountability” and serious deficiencies in management by MAPPA” (multi-agency public protection arrangements)”, along with “insufficient experience and training”, and a “blind spot” to Khan’s unique risks due to his “‘poster boy’ image”.
The jury found a “failure in the sharing of information and guidance by agencies responsible for monitoring or investigating Usman Khan which contributed to the deaths of Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones”, and said there was a “missed opportunity for those with expertise and experience to give guidance”.
Khan has been allowed out on licence in 2018 after serving half of a 16-year sentence for his role in a plot to blow up the London Stock Exchange and US Embassy and target individuals including then London Mayor Boris Johnson.
Ahead of the Learning Together conference, Khan bought a set of knives and assembled a fake suicide vest at his rented flat in Stafford.
He travelled on the train to London alone, putting on the dummy device under a bulky jacket en route.
A chilling image showed Khan, still wearing his coat, sitting next to Ms Jones at a table at Fishmongers’ Hall.
He then went into the men’s toilets and strapped two knives into his hands in a cubicle.
It was pure chance that the first person he encountered was Jack Merritt, whom he stabbed repeatedly.
Khan went on to stab Saskia once in the neck and injure three other people shouting “Allahu Akbar”.
He was tackled by three men with a narwhal tusk, a decorative pike and a fire extinguisher before being dead by police on London Bridge.
After the inquest, Nick Armstrong, for the Merritt family, said it was “completely crazy” that Khan was allowed to attend Fishmongers’ Hall on his own, given what was known about him.
And Jack’s father, Dave Merritt, said the arrangements for managing Khan following his release from prison were “not fit for purpose”.
He described MI5 and West Midlands Counter-Terrorism Police as “complacent and passive in the face of Khan’s extreme and continuing threat”.
The University of Cambridge said: “Today the thoughts of the Cambridge community are with the families of Saskia Jones and Jack Merritt, and with others whose lives were irrevocably changed by the terrible events at Fishmongers’ Hall.
“As we reflect in the weeks ahead on lessons to be learned from the inquest, we are grateful to the many witnesses who testified to the value of Learning Together in helping many of those who take part to make positive progress in their lives.”
Learning Together co-founders and directors Dr Ruth Armstrong and Dr Amy Ludlow said: "Our thoughts today are especially with the families and friends of Jack and Saskia and with everyone else who was injured or with us that day at Fishmongers Hall. We acknowledge the outstanding bravery of many in the Learning Together community, Fishmongers’ Company staff, members of the general public and our emergency services who risked their lives to save and help others.
“We are heartbroken by the loss of our beloved colleague Jack and student Saskia. We are grateful to everyone who spoke of Learning Together’s positive impact and are determined to reflect on the lessons of these inquests as we move forwards."
Legal representation for Saskia Jones’ family was provided by Alice Hardy, Cormac McDonough, Guy Mitchell, of Hodge Jones & Allen Solicitors, and Henry Pitchers QC and Philip Rule of No. 5 Chambers.
Saskia Jones’ family statement in full
“We would like to thank the coroner and counsel to the inquest for the way they have conducted the Inquest. We note with gratitude that the family has been placed at the fore front of the process to establish the facts of the events that led to the murder of Saskia. We also wish to thank our legal representatives, who have worked tirelessly on our behalf and always with Saskia at the heart of their work.
“We have heard evidence from many witnesses, including some brave individuals who risked their own safety to try to avoid any further injury or loss of life. We pay tribute to those people who were put in harm’s way by their employers, with little attention paid to their safety. Some of these individuals paid a heavy price for the decisions made or not made by their employers.
“We were particularly concerned after hearing the evidence given by the Learning Together directors, which allowed an insight to their attitude and the seemingly scant regard they had for the fundamental safety of their staff, volunteers and attendees at the event at Fishmongers’ Hall.
“It could be said that their single-minded view of the rehabilitation of offenders – using Usman Khan, in our view, as a “poster boy” for their programme – significantly clouded their judgement. It seems there was no intent on their part to listen or take notice of what they were dealing with in working with such a high risk individual. Learning Together declined an opportunity to learn more about Usman Khan and his risk factors. This may have contributed to a failure to take account of the steps necessary to protect the safety and wellbeing of everyone involved. This view appears to have remained unchanged despite the events at Fishmongers Hall in November 2019.
“Their refusal when giving evidence adequately to review past behaviours within their organisation and to consider that they may have done things differently is astounding and insulting to the family.
“Likewise, the same approach was demonstrated by The Fishmongers Company, who have also sought to exonerate themselves of any responsibility and refuse to accept, even with hindsight, that they could have avoided the murder of Saskia, with a little more common sense relating to what would amount to simple security measures.
“There are clearly other individuals and organisations, encompassed within ‘the state’ agencies that must take a share of the responsibility for the events of 29th November 2019. There will be some detail we will never know, and it is for those who hide behind the cloak of secrecy to search their own conscience and review their own potential failings. However, it is beyond understanding and astonishing that not one of the state agencies sufficiently considered the associated risk and therefore questioned the wisdom of sending Usman Khan unaccompanied to London.
“Whilst we appreciate where witnesses have reviewed their part and accepted where failings occurred, it has been unsavoury and distressing to hear a number of witnesses trying to avoid proper consideration of their part in the death and injury of innocent people. The apparent unwillingness of some of those involved in the management of Usman Khan and organization of the event at Fishmongers Hall on 29th November 2019 to take any responsibility and show some remorse in the presence of the family, has been very frustrating and ultimately distressing for us.
“The conclusion of the Inquest does not in any way ease the pain of our loss of Saskia and leaves a number of unanswered questions relating to failures of a number of organisations and individuals.
“It is important to us that we ensure that Saskia’s legacy is not undermined by any association she had with Learning Together. It is clear to us that Saskia’s idea of rehabilitation was not consistent with the philosophy of Learning Together.
“Saskia’s key focus and priority had always been in relation to supporting survivors, particularly those survivors of sexual violence, in the context of violence against women and children.
“Saskia was in the process of securing her first steps into what we know would have been a successful and demanding career in victim support services within West Midlands Police Force, where we are sure she would have been a positive influence.
“We now wish to reflect on the findings of the Inquest jury and continue to work with those who are helping us to build a suitable legacy for Saskia.
“We ask that the press and media respect our wish for privacy hereafter.”