A witness to the Fishmongers' Hall terror attack which left two dead and three wounded said he initially thought killer Usman Khan was 'play fighting' when he launched his murderous assault, an inquest jury has heard.
Convicted terrorist Khan, 28, was armed with two knives and wore a fake suicide vest as he stabbed Cambridge University graduates Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23, to death and injured three others at a prisoner rehabilitation event near London Bridge on November 29, 2019.
The killer, who was let out halfway through his 16-year sentence on licence after pretending that he had been de-radicalised, was tackled by heroic members of the public brandishing a decorative pike, narwhal tusk and fire extinguisher before he was then shot dead by police.
Giving evidence at Guildhall in the City of London, Marc Conway, an officer with the Prison Reform Trust, recalled coming face to face with a frenzied Khan during his knife rampage.
'I could see people fighting with Usman Khan,' he said. 'I thought people were messing about, then when I looked more closely I saw Usman Khan with his back to me and people moving out of his way, hitting him. I turned to the side and I saw the knives in his hand.'
He added: 'Before I realised it was serious I said to people 'they're messing about in there, we've been invited to this nice building and you're playing up'. Then I realised, and I said he's got a knife, two big knives. It became apparent something serious was happening.'
Giving evidence at Guildhall in the City of London, Marc Conway, an officer with the Prison Reform Trust, recalled coming face to face with a frenzied Khan during his knife rampage
Usman Khan, 28, was armed with two knives and wore a fake suicide vest as he stabbed Cambridge University graduates Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23, to death
Usman Khan, 28, who was armed with two knives and wore a fake suicide vest, was tackled by members of the public
Jihadi Usman Khan was photographed sitting one seat away from Saskia Jones, 23, in the banqueting hall at Fishmongers' Hall in central London in November 2019
Khan was challenged outside the Fishmonger's Hall by members of the public, who had a fire extinguisher and a narwhal tusk, before the arrival of police
Bystanders and police surrounding Usman Khan at the scene of the terror attack on London Bridge on November 29, 2019
Metropolitan Police handout photo, which was shown in court today at the inquest of the terror attack at the Fishmonger's Hall in London on November 29, 2019 of a knife and tape
A Metropolitan Police photograph of an improvised explosive device which was shown during the inquest Tuesday
How the Fishmongers' Hall attack unfolded
Convicted terrorist Usman Khan killed two talented young people and injured three more in around five minutes during a knife attack at Fishmongers' Hall. An inquest into the deaths of Saskia Jones and Jack Merritt has heard a detailed account of how events 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.
Mr Conway said bystanders sought to hit Khan with various items, including a wooden chair, in a bid to stop him. But he said: 'He (Khan) wasn't reacting in a way I think someone hit with a chair would react. There was some added motivation or strength there that I hadn't seen before.'
The policy officer said he phoned 999 and saw Khan burst out of Fishmongers' Hall, making his way on to London Bridge, before turning to face those in pursuit, appearing to cross the knives he was holding across his face as he did so.
Mr Conway, who knew Mr Merritt, then ran across the bridge to try to help wrestle the knives from Khan, before realising that he had what appeared to be an explosive belt strapped to him.
He said: 'I just wanted to help. When someone said he's got a bomb, and you realise that he's got a belt round him, you felt like you was fighting for your life. I stamped on his hands, I may have put a few kicks in.
'One of the knives we managed to get rid of quite quickly, but the other was quite difficult to get off him. After a couple of shouts of 'bomb, bomb', I heard what I thought was a Taser.
'After a couple of seconds they (police) shot him (Usman Khan) twice.'
The inquests then heard from waitress Sandra Bufano, who had helped serve brunch at the event and was covering the cloakroom for a colleague when the attack began.
She heard screaming coming from the nearby men's toilet, where Khan stabbed Jack Merritt, before he emerged and locked eyes with her. 'He was not doing anything, but just staring at me,' Ms Bufano said, describing the look as 'very intense'.
Khan then stepped towards Ms Jones, who was about to leave belongings in the cloakroom, and stabbed her in the neck. 'He wasn't rushing, he was completely calm and collected. He moved without rushing,' Ms Bufano said.
She saw Khan's arm move upwards, and then told the jury: 'At that point she screamed, at that point I thought something really bad is happening here.'
Ms Bufano then saw Mr Merritt looking unsteady on his feet with blood dripping down his arm, and 'panicked' and ran.
Reformed offender Gareth Evans, who attended the conference and helped pin Khan to the ground, told the inquest how he tried to comfort Ms Jones as she lay fatally wounded. 'I took hold of her, she sort of collapsed, I sat down on the steps and I was talking to her,' he said.
Appearing to wipe his eye, Mr Evans added: 'I was trying to make sure she felt comfortable and safe. I said she was loved and she was beautiful and then everything else happened.'
Mr Evans had travelled to the event with Mr Merritt, who he befriended along with Ms Jones through the Learning Together scheme for which she volunteered. The former prisoner helped both Ms Jones and Isobel Rowbotham, who survived the knife rampage, staying with them and sharing comforting words after the atrocity.
After a break, Mr Evans said attendees were preparing for the next conference session when he heard a 'developing commotion.' 'I remembered that I didn't know if they were joking or not so I wanted to go and check,' Mr Evans told jurors.
When he reached the staircase he saw 'Saskia looking distressed and pale,' he said.
'She was pale and she was holding her neck.'
'Did you go towards her?' Mr Hough asked.
'Yes,' Mr Evans replied. 'She collapsed as I caught her and as she let go of her neck I saw a lot of blood came out.'
'Was she saying anything?' the lawyer asked.
'She was trying to,' Mr Evans said. 'It looked like please. 'Like I said she sort of collapsed. I sat down on the steps and I was talking to her...
'I was just trying to make sure she was comfortable and safe so I said she was loved and that she was beautiful.'
Mr Evans asked for help as he placed his hand on Ms Jones' wound to try and stem the bleeding before prison officer Adam Roberts joined him and began CPR, jurors heard.
As Mr Evans moved away to survey the venue, he came across Khan 'hysterical' and waving two knives around which he had taped to his hands, the inquest heard.
He joined in efforts to corner the terrorist near the entrance of the building before seeing Isobel Rowbotham, another Learning Together employee, lying stabbed nearby. 'I knew at that point she was alive because she was moving and breathing and stuff,' Mr Evans said.
'You certainly spoke to her, comforted her, helped her,' Mr Hough said.
Mr Evans started the Learning Together programme while he was still an inmate at HMP Grendon and has credited the scheme with changing his life for the better, jurors heard.
James Ford, an attendee at the event, appeared emotional as he gave evidence about how he tried to help Ms Jones. Recalling the aftermath, when Ms Jones lay bleeding, he said: 'I can't bring myself to say it. I saw the attacker. There were some people standing around him.
'It was a very tense, aggressive situation. I think he (Khan) had blood on him, I remember seeing he had a knife in one of his hands.'
Mr Ford said he remembered meeting Khan at the start of the event, and thought it was unusual that he was wearing a large coat, completely done up.
Recalling a brief conversation he had with Khan, he said: 'I said 'it's nice in here, but it's a bit strange all this', he didn't really respond.
'He was wearing his coat, it was long-sleeve and done up to the neck, I thought it was strange - it was quite warm in there.'
Mr Ford said he later heard a scream when Khan launched his attack elsewhere in Fishmongers' Hall, but said he initially thought the commotion was from a car crash.
Usman Khan (left) stands across the hall from Jack Merritt (right) on November 29, 2019 before Khan carried out the attack
Usman Khan and Saskia Jones sat at a table at a prisoner rehabilitation event at Fishmongers' Hall on November 29, 2018
Usman Khan stands (circled, left) at a drinks reception before the prisoner rehabilitation event at Fishmongers' Hall in 2019
Jack Merritt (circled) in the main event room at the prisoner rehabilitation event near London Bridge on November 29, 2019
Usman Khan (1) and Saskia Jones (2) sit at a table together at the prisoner rehabilitation event near London Bridge in 2019
Steve Gallant (left), who confronted Khan on London Bridge, and Darryn Frost (right), the 38-year-old civil servant working at the Ministry of Justice who fought off Khan with a narwhal tusk
Prison officer Adam Roberts, who had escorted Steven Gallant to the event at Fishmongers' Hall on day release, described how he gave first aid to Ms Jones after she had been stabbed.
He saw her lying on the stairs with someone helping her, and realised 'something was very wrong', the jury heard. 'She was bleeding profusely... from where her neck meets her shoulder,' he said.
Mr Roberts covered the wound with his jacket and tried to shield her, the jury was told. He said: 'It was an attempt to stop the bleeding but it was almost working out like a hug, and telling her to look at me and not him, so she was looking at someone who was trying to help her rather than something else.'
Mr Roberts added: 'It was an attempt to stop the bleeding and give her a chance.'
Police officers then came and performed CPR on Ms Jones, the inquest heard.
Paramedics and air ambulance medics also arrived, and Mr Roberts became angry with one of the team when they told him they had to stop. He said: 'I felt like I'd done everything right, I'd got to her really quickly and I'd done everything that we possibly could.
'In my head we were going to get her into the hands of the paramedics and off to hospital and it was going to be fine.'
Mr Roberts told the jury: 'It didn't make sense to me that you would leave a 24, 23-year-old girl to die... I was angry with him when he said that, because he wasn't there through everything else.
'It felt like he just rocked up and just said 'if she's been down that long that's it'.'
Counsel to the inquest Jonathan Hough QC told the jury that they will hear that there had been a long conversation among the medical staff before the decision to stop was taken.
As Mr Roberts tried to save Miss Jones, he could see that Khan, who was feet away, had what appeared to be an explosive belt around his waist.
He said: 'I pretty much assumed that it was a bomb.'
Describing Khan's behaviour as other attendees tried to tackle him, Mr Roberts said: 'Aggressive, a very fronting up sort of stance with his knives clearly showing generally being aggressive and shouting'.
The 28-year-old was repeatedly shouting: 'Get the f****** police', the jury was told.
He was moving backwards and forwards making 'false charges', Mr Roberts said, 'almost coaxing people to come towards him, but almost like he didn't want them to'.
Jury inquests into the deaths of Mr Merritt and Ms Jones are taking place before coroner Mark Lucraft QC. They are due to go on for six weeks before a separate inquest into Khan's death.