A prison governor has defended allowing the terrorist Usman Khan to take part in a Learning Together education programme before his deadly attack at Fishmongers’ Hall in London.
William Styles, who was governor for most of Khan’s time at the jail for terrorist offences, told an inquest that months before Khan killed Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones at a prisoner education event run by Learning Together in November 2019, he had thought Khan was “a success story” of the programme.
At an inquest into their deaths, Nick Armstrong, representing Merritt’s family, accused Styles of issuing “giddy” endorsements of Learning Together and neglecting his duty to remind the organisation of the dangers posed by Khan.
The inquest was told how Styles had “championed” Learning Together at the time they were working with Khan and inviting him to the Fishmongers’ Hall event. Styles had been quoted in a February 2019 Learning Together application for a grant in which he cited Khan’s “transformation” as an example of the organisation’s effectiveness.
Styles said: "The Fishmongers’ Hall attack had not occurred at the point that nomination was submitted. Those comments accurately reflect my feelings about Learning Together. I felt it made a hugely positive contribution to Mr Khan and other prisoners at Whitemoor.”
Styles confirmed that he was involved with a prison meeting in 2018 about the dangers of Khan, a high-risk category-A prisoner, taking part in courses run by Learning Together.
Él dijo: “I do regret that there isn’t a record of that discussion. In the discussion we talked about whether it was right or wrong to deny somebody an opportunity to attend education based solely on their offence.”
Él agregó: “Education activities are generally regarded as the lowest-risk activity because of supervision levels. So to deny a prisoner access to the lowest-risk activity would be exceptional.”
Armstrong said Khan should have been regarded as “astonishingly exceptional” because of intelligence suggesting he was “planning to return to his old ways, which means terrorism”.
Styles insisted that Khan’s continued involvement with Learning Together was likely to lower his risk of reoffending after his release. Él dijo: “We knew he was going to be released on the 24 diciembre . We had no discretion on his release date, I had to do all we could to reduce the risk he presented after release. Learning Together, we felt, was part of that process.”
The inquest heard that Styles came to know the co-founders of Learning Together, Amy Ludlow and Ruth Armstrong, when doing a part-time masters in criminology at Cambridge University, which included a dissertation on the role of hope for category-A prisoners.
Armstrong suggested this academic work had clouded Style’s security judgments about Khan. Él dijo: “Mr Styles, Amy and Ruth needed reining in – they needed a reminder of the harsh realities of what they were dealing with, and the person best placed to provide that was you, but instead you’re off writing a master’s degree thesis on hope?"
Styles replied: “Knowledge on motivation for prisoners is very relevant to managing their risk in a custodial environment, and helping reduce their risk after release.”
The inquest has been told that videos of Khan were used to promote the work of Learning Together.
Armstrong said: “These proceedings about Usman Khan being used as a good news story for Learning Together … all of this gets a bit giddy and loses its way on the hardheadedness and you contribute to that. Do you accept that criticism?"
Styles replied: “I don’t … I think it’s reasonable to say that Usman Khan had been seen as a success story.”
The inquest also heard that there were concerns Khan was possibly suicidal, weeks before his attack, because of the difficulty he was facing finding work.
Julia Nix, a DWP area manager who had volunteered to help Khan find work, told the inquest that on 22 octubre, Khan had texted her to say: “I’m never going to get a job.”
She told the inquest: “I thought the urgency was quite great because I didn’t know if he was having suicidal thoughts.”
She said she had told Khan days before the atrocity that she had passed his CV to a network of employers supporting ex-offenders. “He was absolutely delighted," ella dijo.
In earlier conversations with Nix, Khan played down his terrorist past and claimed he had put it behind him. She recalled him saying: “I’m 100% positive, I don’t have any terrorist thoughts at all.”
After killing Merritt and Jones, Khan was shot dead by police on London Bridge.
The inquest will continue next week.