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Mother’s tearful tribute to Fishmongers’ Hall attack victim

Emily Pennink, PA Old Bailey Correspondent
·5 min read

A terror victim’s mother has tearfully described her son as a “force for good in the world” as an inquest heard graphic details of the Fishmongers’ Hall attack in which he died.

Cambridge University graduates Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23, were killed by convicted terrorist Usman Khan at a prisoner rehabilitation event near London Bridge on November 29 2019.

Khan, 28, who was armed with two knives and wore a fake suicide vest, was tackled by members of the public with a decorative pike, narwhal tusk and fire extinguisher, and then shot dead by police on London Bridge.

A jury inquest into the deaths of Mr Merritt and Ms Jones began on Monday before coroner Mark Lucraft QC at Guildhall in the City of London.

Ms Jones was a former criminology student and ex-Cambridge undergraduate Mr Merritt was employed by the university on the Learning Together programme.

Speaking in the Old Library at Guildhall, Mr Merritt’s mother Anne wept as she told jurors: “Jack Merritt was a good person.

“Jack was a force for good in the world, someone who made other people’s lives better for knowing him.

“We are hugely proud of who Jack was and what he stood for.

“His death was a tragedy but his life was a triumph.”

She read tributes from friends and family who described him as a “true visionary”, a “very cool brother”, and a “fiercely loyal” friend who “championed the underdog”.

Saskia Jones
Saskia Jones (Metropolitan Police/PA)

Henry Pitchers QC, for the Jones family, said Ms Jones would wish the inquest to focus on the facts and evidence, with the “emphasis to be on a thorough investigation as to how she came to lose her life”.

He said: “It would be her hope that no other family is devastated and heartbroken again in similar circumstances.”

He added it is important to the family that her legacy is not solely based on her work with Learning Together.

Mr Pitchers said: “She should be defined as someone who battled to improve the lives of others in several spheres and was driven to make real changes in the world.”

He described her research in the field of sexual violence with Rape Crisis in Cambridge.

He said: “Her passion in this area enabled her to finally find her career path with the hope of becoming a detective in victim support within the police force.

“The positive impact Saskia had on so many people in challenging situations provided a valley of light for them to seek hope and a way forward.”

Detective Chief Inspector Dan Brown chronicled the attack in a series of graphic photographs and video.

Jurors were told that Mr Merritt had some professional dealings with Khan before the Learning Together event in the stately hall.

Bomb plot terrorists jailed
Usman Khan was shot dead by police on London Bridge (West Midlands Police/PA)

Footage from shortly before midday showed Khan talking “animatedly” with Ms Jones at a table, even though they had not known each other before.

Around two hours later, at 1.56pm, he launched his attack in the men’s toilets at Fishmongers’ Hall.

Khan had strapped two knives on to his hands, leaving a bag containing a third blade in a cubicle and dropping a prayer book on the floor.

He came across Mr Merritt, stabbing him multiple times, causing 12 injuries including a fatal wound to the chest, the court heard.

Khan made his way to the cloakroom area, where he gestured to a member of staff “as if to be quiet”, Mr Brown said.

Ms Jones was stabbed once in the neck and staggered up a few steps before she collapsed, jurors heard.

Khan went on to injure Stephanie Szczotko and Isobel Rowbotham during the rampage.

He was confronted by a number of attendees with makeshift weapons, including an ornamental pike taken from the wall.

The attacker approached a member of staff, held a knife to his chest and asked him to open the door, which he did, the court was told.

Met Police handout photo, which was shown in court, of Jack Merritt in the main event room at a prisoner rehabilitation event near London Bridge
Met Police handout photo, which was shown in court, of Jack Merritt in the main event room at a prisoner rehabilitation event near London Bridge (Handout/PA)

The court heard there were screams and lots of confusion as people left by another exit.

Khan was pursued on to London Bridge by John Crilly, Steven Gallant and Darryn Frost at around 2.01pm, five minutes after the attack began, jurors were told.

Mr Crilly sprayed a fire extinguisher at him and Mr Frost jabbed at him with a narwhal tusk before they all tackled Khan to the ground with other members of the public.

Police had been called at 1.58pm and armed City of London Police officers arrived at 2.02pm.

Shouts could be heard that the suspect had just killed two people and a male voice called him a “scumbag”.

Mr Brown said Khan appeared to be wearing an improvised explosive device (IED) strapped around his midriff and people were told stand clear.

The senior officer told jurors: “There was one individual, Mr Frost, who was still holding on to Khan. He was told to move out of the way.”

Khan was then shot and Tasered by police but still appeared to present a threat as he writhed on the floor wearing the IED, Mr Brown said.

He said police discharged firearms again at 2.10pm and by 2.12pm Khan no longer showed any signs of life.

A examination of the IED later revealed it was not genuine, the court heard.

Jurors heard that one of Khan’s knives had a crudely etched Arabic symbol for Allah on it.

A fourth knife was discovered at his home in Stafford.

Mr Brown suggested Khan put on the fake IED on the train to London.

The officer told jurors that investigators examined Khan’s digital devices, CCTV, mobile phone data and GPS he wore as an offender on licence.

He said: “We are satisfied he acted completely alone in this attack.”

The inquest is due to go on for several weeks before a separate inquest into Khan’s death.