DOMINIC LAWSON: Haunting image of a killer and his victim

In some cases an image is so haunting that you simply can’t stop thinking of it. One such image was presented last week at the inquest into the murders of 23-year-old Saskia Jones and 25-year-old Jack Merritt at Fishmongers’ Hall in the City of London on November 29, 2019

Their killer was Usman Khan, who had been founded guilty in 2012 of planning terrorist attacks against the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, the home of the then London mayor, Boris Johnson, the U.S. Embassy and two synagogues. Oh, and the Houses of Parliament. Yet Stoke-born Khan had been released from Belmarsh jail in 2018, ‘on licence’: it ended up being licence to kill.

The jihadist was likewise a poster kid for a generous-spirited and high-minded (if naïve) organisation called Knowing Together, a wrongdoer rehab effort run by the University of Cambridge.

Saskia Jones and Jack Merritt were two young, highly educated idealists included with this programme– and so it was that they and Khan were at that banqueting hall, at an occasion to mark the fifth anniversary of Knowing Together.

Poignant photo: Sitting just feet apart, Saskia Jones and her killer, Usman Khan, at Fishmongers’ Hall in the City of London on November 29, 2019.

The inquest has heard from one witness that Khan informed the event about how they ‘d made him see his ‘path was incorrect’.

And that haunting image revealed to the inquest? It is a picture of Saskia Jones sitting almost beside Khan. Minutes after that photo was taken, Khan went downstairs to the lavatories, emerged with knives connected to his wrists and stabbed Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones to death.

Base

As I gaze at that unbearably poignant image, the words that come to mind are those from Shakespeare’s Macbeth: ‘There’s no art to discover the mind’s building in the face/ He was a gentleman on whom I built an outright trust.’

This point– that we never ever understand what someone is believing, beneath a plausible manner– uses to the whole service of detainee rehabilitation: however particularly to those, such as Usman Khan, dedicated to an extremist ideology whose values is so base.

Saskia Jones (circled, second) and Jack Merritt were two young, extremely informed idealists included with this programme– therefore it was that they and Khan (circled around, number one) were at that banqueting hall, at an occasion to mark the 5th anniversary of Learning Together

Anybody sentenced for a violent criminal offense who wishes to fulfill the requirements of the parole board for early release is needed to acknowledge regret, and to appear penitent, identified not to re-offend. It is a system which incentivises faked repentance.

By contrast, one reason those really innocent of the criminal activity for which they have actually been founded guilty serve a lot longer time within is that they refuse to play this game.

Yet the system doesn’t alter, and the jail service is institutionally hesitant to recognise that all its rehab programs are, at best, pot luck. Or, as a pal who was a jail psychiatrist informed me: ‘We know that a specific proportion of violent wrongdoers launched early will reoffend. The trouble is, we do not know which ones.’

A particularly disturbing example of this was revealed by David Rose in the Mail last month. He exposed how an official report into the Wrongdoer Character Disorder (OPD) Path– a prison-based rehab initiative for people examined as ‘presenting a high probability of violent offence repetition’ and with a ‘extreme type of personality condition’– had actually discovered that those who had actually been through the programme were most likely to reoffend after they had actually been launched than other violent and disrupted prisoners who had actually not been on the course.

However the real scandal that Rose revealed was that this report, by Teacher Paul Moran of Bristol University, completed 3 years earlier, had been rested on by the authorities– and the OPD programme continues to this day.

Such institutional complacency is particularly unsafe as it applies to those founded guilty of terrorist plots. We know this, because of an outspoken previous prison guv, Ian Acheson.

After Usman Khan’s murder of Saskia Jones and Jack Merritt (he likewise stabbed others attending the same occasion, who fortunately made it through, prior to he was shot dead on London Bridge by armed police), Acheson exposed what happened when the then Justice Secretary, Michael Gove, asked him, in 2015, to conduct an independent evaluation of Islamist extremism in the prison and parole system.

Shambles

‘ Many encounters with prison officials resulted in jaw-dropping levels of naivety and bureaucratic obfuscation,’ he stated. ‘There was a toxic combination of conceit, defensiveness and ineptitude. Screening tools to identify and programs to tackle radicalised behaviour were fundamental internal developments, with former terrorist wrongdoers informing us how simple courses were to “game”. It was a disarray.’

Acheson declared that the Usman Khan organization will prove to have actually been ‘an organisational disaster that no quantity of administrative evasion can fix. His sentence was quashed by the Court of Appeal, changing an indeterminate one for public security with a lower, determinate, sentence.

Family handout pictures of Jack Merritt, left, and Saskia Jones, who were stabbed to death by Khan before he was fatally shot by armed authorities on London Bridge

‘ This probably lowered the choices offered for his danger management on release from custody,’ Acheson continued. ‘It definitely brought forward his release.’

It was the Labour House Secretary David Blunkett who presented the indefinite terms known as IPPS (Jail Time for Public Defense Sentences). They were abandoned after a judgment by the European Court of Human Rights, but those currently serving such terms required a British court to lift them– as Usman Khan’s attorneys managed to achieve.

A retired judge, John Samuels QC, now President of the Prisoners’ Education Trust, was an especially voluble critic of the IPPS. In 2017, he stated them ‘the most monstrous injustice of perpetuity’. That’s going it a bit (what about the Dreyfus affair?), although Samuels may well be ideal that there were examples of it being applied in a way which was vicious– and it was far from only terrorist plotters who got such a sentence.

Punishment

Khan in an undated handout photo from West Midlands Cops

But I question what he now considers Khan’s success in overturning his initial ‘indeterminate’ sentence. For Samuels was a guest at that Knowing Together occasion at Fishmongers’ Hall: he understood Jack Merritt through their work together on detainee rehab. And recently he gave evidence to the inquest, as he saw Saskia right away after she had been stabbed: ‘Her face was chalk white. She appeared unconscious to me, and even dead.’

I think, as a career-long critic of what he views as a jail system too much tailored to punishment and too little to rehab, John Samuels will not have changed his mind.

However it is not simply ‘wall mounts and floggers’ who believe that jail ought to just be about keeping the general public safe, to prevent, and to supply the penal service chosen by a judge after a jury has delivered its decision.

The former Director General of the Jail Service, Sir Martin Narey, just a month before Khan murdered those 2 public-spirited young criminologists, made a speech arguing that rehab of wrongdoers in jail didn’t work and must be abandoned: ‘The things we did to prisoners, the courses we put them on, the participation of charities, made little or no distinction,’ he said.

His advice to an audience of experts in the field was blunt: ‘Stop stressing about rehab.’

This doesn’t imply that jails need to be in any way barbaric. But we need to stop complicated penalty with therapy. That way lies still more preventable catastrophe.

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