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The uncomfortable truth that terror suspects are living among us all

By Richard Guttridge | Crime | Published:

Terrorist Usman Khan was only half way through his sentence when he carried put his murderous outrage near London Bridge.

Tributes to Cambridge University graduates Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23, on London Bridge

He had been released on licence, a process designed to be part of his journey to returning to life as a law-abiding citizen.

His situation was far from unique. Today it can be revealed there at least eight other convicted terrorists living among us.

It may be an uncomfortable statistic for many in light of what happened in November when 28-year-old Khan, who was living in Stafford, slipped through the net and killed two people in the attack.

The security services are supposed to stop this from from happening. If these dangerous offenders are to be released from prison then their every move should be being monitored.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has been quick to try and reassure the public that security measures have been stepped up in relation to these offenders serving out their prison sentences in the community. The eight, who are all living in the West Midlands, were released from prison since 2015 so it’s likely the true figure is higher.

It is hardly surprising that questions are being asked after the tragic events on London Bridge about the management of these dangerous criminals.

Usman Khan

Khan, who had previously been part of a cell which threatened to blow up the London Stock Exchange, had travelled from his home in Stafford Road, Stafford, to be part of a prisoner rehabilitation conference at Fishmongers’ Hall when, armed with two knives and wearing a fake suicide vest, he launched his deadly attack.

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Several people were stabbed and 25-year-old Jack Merritt and 23-year-old Saskia Jones were killed as heroic members of the public attempted to tackle Khan. The attacker was then shot dead by armed police.

Pat McFadden, Labour MP for Wolverhampton South West, says terrorism laws were “watered down” after the Conservatives entered Government in 2010. He said controversial control orders introduced by Tony Blair were an effective way to restrict offenders’ movements, and take them far away from their terror networks.

Khan, however, was housed in Stafford, just a few miles away from his Stoke terror cell connections. Could this have been part of the reason he was drawn back to terror?

Staffordshire Police is being investigated by the Office of Police Conduct over its previous contact with Khan as authorities attempt to learn lessons.

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Mr McFadden said: “I said at the time that it was an enormous mistake for the Conservatives to water down control orders after they came in to office.

“These control orders were a tough regime for supervising recently released terrorists and those who were suspected of being involved in terrorist networks.

“They were replaced by a weaker system that gave terror suspects greater freedom to move around and great access to the internet and mobile phones. This weaker regime also put more pressure on the security services in terms of keeping watch on these suspects.”

London Bridge terror attack

Mike Wood, Conservative MP for Dudley South, is also in favour of taking a tough line on convicted terrorists. He insists there is “no way of protecting the public more than keeping dangerous criminals in prison”.

He said it was concerning convicted terrorists were being let out of prison on licence.

Following the London Bridge attack, Boris Johnson has announced tougher sentences for terrorists and vowed to end early releases.

But there are those who insist rehabilitation has an important role to play in helping offenders, even the most dangerous, change their ways and that merely keeping them locked up could prove to be counter-productive in the long run.

One of the heroes of London Bridge, Steven Gallant, turned out to be a convicted murderer who was attending the same rehabilitation conference. His actions in helping to stop Khan undoubtedly saved lives. His involvement led to a debate as to how we should react to this man. He was immediately hailed as a hero – a man who had done wrong in the past but who had now shown incredible courage to save others in their time of need.

It also raised the issue of prisoner rehabilitation and how people with such radical views can be reformed so that they can return to living in our neighbourhood without putting the public at large at risk.

The Ministry of Justice set out a series of changes following the London Bridge attack.

London Bridge terror attack

It said it has “acted quickly” in reaction to the public outcry that followed the revelation that the terrorist had been living in Stafford and was able to plan and carry out murder without intervention. It said it would “review the supervision of all terrorists being managed by probation on licence, to ensure risk management plans in place are robust and fit for purpose.”

A spokesman added: “We have stepped up reporting requirements and have made sure stringent licence conditions are in place to effectively manage the risk these people pose.

“Any offender on licence can be immediately recalled into prison if they breach their licence conditions. The nature of the cases we have reviewed range from those preparing to commit acts of terrorism to those who have downloaded and distributed terrorist publications.”

But critics say the big stick approach cannot be used alone and point to the many success stories there have been involving people jailed for serious offences.

They include convicted killer Sadam Essakhil, who stabbed a man to death in Handsworth in 2015.

Four years into his own sentence he recently took part in a police anti-knife crime campaign and spoke about how he regretted his actions, urging other young people not to arm themselves with a knife.

'Rehabilitation works – if the offender is willing to change'

Retired West Midlands Police detective Mike Layton says it has been proven that rehabilitation can work for some criminals – but that the resources have to be there for security services.

He said the fundamental issue is the desire of the individual to want help.

Mr Leyton said: “I do support it where somebody wants to change and has the desire to change. Some people are career burglars or are heavily involved in drug supply but that doesn’t mean at some point in their lives they are not going to change. And there needs to be the system in place to facilitate that.

“But it’s a fine balance. I would always err on the side of protecting the public and society.

“Living in a liberal society has many positive benefits – but equally it should be about protecting people who are innocent and don’t deserve to be subjected to violent attacks.

“There needs to be effective rehabilitation but it has got to be continuously reviewed and results based.”

The Prison Reform Trust fears reacting by imposing longer prison sentences is not the solution.

It said it understood the concerns raised by the London Bridge attack, but that the good work being done elsewhere should not be underestimated.

Director Peter Dawson said changes should only be made after careful consideration, adding: “Following almost a decade of deterioration, the Government is right to want to restore confidence in our justice system. But so far it is looking in the wrong places.

“Longer sentences haven’t improved public confidence or safety before, and they won’t now.

“But they have helped produce a prison system that fails to deliver either safety or rehabilitation. Good soundbites don’t always make good policy – a coherent plan for reform is long overdue.”

Richard Guttridge

By Richard Guttridge
Investigations Editor - @RichG_star

Investigations Editor for the Express & Star.

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