Saskia Jones and Jack Merritt were extremely bright, and talented young people. Through the evil actions of the attacker, their lives were tragically cut short.
On behalf of the Metropolitan Police and Counter Terrorism Policing, I offer my deepest condolences to the families of Jack and Saskia and to their many friends; to the survivors of this shocking attack who suffered the most appalling injuries, and to all those who have been traumatised.
I must highlight and praise the bravery of everyone involved in responding to the attack; the public, the police officers and the other emergency responders, who put themselves in grave danger to stop the attacker and keep others safe from harm, and who tried to save Jack and Saskia and help others who were badly injured. As the Coroner said in his summary of the evidence, this is a case in which lives were saved by the emergency response.
I would also like to thank the Coroner and the jury for their careful examination of the circumstances surrounding the attack and thank the investigation team from London’s Counter Terrorism Command, for their painstaking work supporting the Coroner.
At the time the attacker was released from prison, there was a multi-agency system in place to manage violent offenders in the community. Together with our partners, we are significantly strengthening how terrorist offenders are managed within this system.
Over the past twenty years, we have worked to ensure that increasing numbers of individuals who pose a threat of serious harm are identified and imprisoned before they can carry out terrorist attacks. But in recent years, as some of these individuals reached the end of their sentences, we have realised that the way in which terrorist offenders were managed could be improved.
We had identified this and were making changes before this attack took place. The terrible events on 29 November 2019 only served to ensure that we redoubled our efforts.
Since then, the Government has made changes to the law, the Ministry of Justice has strengthened prison and probation services, and we in policing have developed a far stronger national offender management model. These changes can never provide a 100% guarantee, but they will better protect the public from terrorist offenders.
Better trained counter terrorism officers will be dedicated to managing terrorist offenders. They will work even more closely with MI5, prison and probation officers to spot any changes in behaviour and there will also be more seasoned and experienced professionals who can better understand, and interpret any warning signals. On the policing side, there are clearer lines of responsibility, and collectively, we will get better at sharing information so that those making decisions and assessing risks posed by terrorist offenders are doing so with the best information and intelligence to hand.
The Coroner heard evidence that this work was a wholly new initiative devised by Counter Terrorism Policing, and it is one that has not been seen anywhere else in the world.
That we are making these changes after this attack will, I suspect, be of little comfort to Jack and Saskia’s family. The fact that, as the jury determined, there were omissions or failures in the management of the attacker and in the sharing of information and guidance by the agencies responsible, is simply unacceptable and I’m so deeply sorry we weren’t better at this in November 2019.
But even with the changes in place, it remains true that managing the risks posed by terrorist offenders is an incredibly challenging job for all the agencies involved. The stark reality is that we can never guarantee we will stop every attack. But I promise, we will do absolutely everything we can to try.
I have been in Counter Terrorism Policing for over six years now. I know that everyone involved in this mission goes to work each day to stop there being more victims and together, since 2017, they have stopped 29 murderous plots.
Sadly, there have also been 12 attacks since 2017. Alongside Jack and Saskia, 39 other innocent people were murdered by terrorists, with many hundreds injured. But there has always been a genuine willingness and desire to learn whenever we are not successful, to find out why and to put things right as quickly as possible.
The jury has today concluded that Jack and Saskia were unlawfully killed. This reflects the fact that whilst we, along with our partners, will constantly strive to improve, the ultimate responsibility for this barbaric act lies with the attacker. He deceived and betrayed almost everyone he spoke to. He lied. He alone chose to attack and murder some of the very people who were trying to help him and give him the opportunity to live a better life.
Which brings me back to Jack and Saskia. They had both chosen to do something good with their lives, to make tremendously positive contributions to our society. And it is precisely our precious society, and the incredibly humane and beautiful people in it like Jack and Saskia, that terrorists want to destroy. But as I’ve said, we will never cease trying to stop them.
Collectively, all of us will stop that happening, by standing together against the evil of terrorism and its perverse ideologies. I promise we who work in Counter Terrorism will constantly seek to be the best we possibly can. The public – the incredibly brave public – helped us on 29 November 2019 and I know they will help us again.