Skip to main content

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan speaks during a vigil for victims of the Nov. 29 attack on London Bridge.

HENRY NICHOLLS/Reuters

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and main Opposition Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn paused Monday to honour the two people killed in the London Bridge attack, then went back to trading blame for the security failings that allowed a man who had been jailed for terrorist crimes go on a violent rampage in the heart of London.

Usman Khan stabbed two people to death and injured three others Friday before being shot and killed by police on the bridge. Two of the injured remain hospitalized in stable condition.

Politicians, who are campaigning ahead of Britain’s Dec. 12 election, immediately sought to deflect blame for the first fatal attack in London since 2017. Mr. Johnson accused Labour of being soft on terrorism and vowed to end the early release of inmates convicted of terrorist crimes. He said it was “repulsive that individuals as dangerous as this man” could be freed.

Story continues below advertisement

Mr. Corbyn blamed years of cuts to the police, prison and parole services by Conservative governments, saying they left the system unable to monitor offenders.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, called on Londoners to honour the memory of two people who died in an attack on Friday by drawing inspiration from their lives. Reuters

He said the tragedy raised “enormous questions” about how the attacker’s state of mind had been evaluated, and “what supervision and monitoring he was under” after leaving prison.

Political dignitaries, city officials, friends of the victims and Londoners who had never met them attended a vigil outside London’s medieval Guildhall to remember Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones, who died in the attack, and to honour members of the emergency services and bystanders who fought the attacker with fists, fire extinguishers and even a narwhal tusk.

Mayor Sadiq Khan said people should “take hope from the heroism of ordinary Londoners and emergency services who ran toward danger, risking their lives to help people they didn’t even know.”

Former University of Cambridge students Ms. Jones, 23, and Mr. Merritt, 25, were fatally stabbed by the 28-year-old attacker at an event run by the Cambridge-based prisoner-rehabilitation program Learning Together. Mr. Merritt worked for the program and Ms. Jones was a volunteer.

Usman Khan was attending the event at London’s Fishmongers’ Hall and had returned for the afternoon session when he started stabbing people. Police believe he acted alone.

He was pursued onto London Bridge and restrained by staff from the venue and others from the conference, including former inmates. Police opened fire after he flashed what looked like a suicide vest. It turned out to be fake.

Story continues below advertisement

Toby Williamson, chief executive of Fishmongers’ Hall, paid tribute to staff who tried to help the wounded and fight off the attacker. Mr. Williamson said one staffer, a kitchen worker he identified as Lukasz, pulled a 1.5-metre narwhal tusk from the wall and charged at Mr. Khan, allowing others to escape.

Mr. Williamson told Sky News that Lukasz, wielding the tusk, fought one-on-one with Mr. Khan for about a minute and suffered cuts on his arm, but didn’t “flinch for a moment.”

The attack has pushed security to the top of the agenda in the election campaign.

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn attended the vigil.

TOBY MELVILLE/Reuters

Mr. Johnson, a Conservative, blamed legal changes made by a previous Labour government for the fact that Mr. Khan was freed from prison a year ago after serving half of a 16-year sentence for terrorist offences.

Mr. Khan was arrested in 2010 and admitted to being part of an al-Qaeda-inspired plot to set up a terrorist training camp in Pakistan. He was given an “indeterminate” sentence in 2012 that specified he could only be released when he was judged not to be a danger to the public. He appealed, and the sentence was fixed at 16 years. Like many British inmates, he was released after serving half that time.

Opposition parties blamed years of public spending cuts by the Conservatives, who have been in power since 2010. Mr. Khan was on probation, subject to restrictions on his movement and wearing an electronic tag when he launched his attack.

Story continues below advertisement

Philip Lee, a former Conservative justice minister who quit the party and joined the opposition Liberal Democrats, accused the Prime Minister of “misleading and lying” with his simplistic depiction of the problem.

“The solutions to this are complex,” he said. “Everybody, right-minded people, want to see people like Usman Khan locked up and kept away from broader society, but to do that you have got to have the prison places, you have got to have the capacity to make the right decisions.”

British authorities are investigating whether Mr. Khan lapsed back into radicalization after his release, or deceived people into thinking he had left extremism behind. He spent time at HMP Whitemoor, a maximum-security prison where Learning Together runs courses for inmates. The Daily Telegraph reported Monday that he was featured as a success story on the program’s website. The site appears to have been removed since the attack.

Mr. Johnson said the case showed that some criminals are beyond rehabilitation. “There are unquestionably some cases which are just too tough to crack and alas he appears to have been one of them,” he said during a campaign visit to Southampton on England’s south coast.

But Ian Acheson, a criminologist who led a government-commissioned review into Islamic extremism in British prisons, said the country’s deradicalization programs were ineffective and overstretched authorities were ill equipped to deal with extremists determined to play the system.

“This disaster is one that was created in the Treasury,” Mr. Acheson told the BBC. “At the heart of this is the destruction of the prison and probations service through crazy failed ideological and austerity cuts.”

Story continues below advertisement

After the attack, authorities scrambled to review the cases of 74 other people who had been jailed for terrorism and released in similar circumstances to Mr. Khan.

As part of that review, a 34-year-old man was arrested in Stoke-on-Trent, central England, and sent back to prison for violating his release conditions.

Mr. Merritt’s family also cautioned against knee-jerk responses. His relatives said he “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.”

In an emotional article in The Guardian newspaper, David Merritt said his son “would be seething at his death, and his life, being used to perpetuate an agenda of hate that he gave his everything fighting against.”

“Jack believed in the inherent goodness of humanity, and felt a deep social responsibility to protect that,” he wrote. “Through us all, Jack marches on.”

British police shot a man dead after several people were stabbed at London Bridge, in an incident police confirmed was terror-related. Reuters

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter
To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies