Boris Johnson blames Labour for release of London Bridge killer

Boris Johnson has sought to blame Labour for the release of Usman Khan, the convicted terrorist who murdered two people on London Bridge on Friday, as the aftermath of the attack became an increasingly politicised election issue.

In an interview on BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show, the prime minister said it was “ridiculous” that someone such as Khan should have been freed midway through an earlier sentence, and pledged to change the law.

He said: “The reason this killer was out on the streets was because of automatic early release which was brought in by a leftie government.”

But challenged on the role of cuts to police, probation services and the judicial system under 10 years of Conservative rule, Johnson repeatedly sought to separate himself from this, and present his government as entirely separate.

“I’ve only been in office for 120 days,” he said. Asked by Marr about decisions on public spending taken since 2010, Johnson replied: “I’m a new prime minister. We take a different approach.”

In the interview Johnson repeatedly sought to make political capital over the attack by Khan, who was freed under licence a year ago after being jailed for his part in an al-Qaida-inspired bombing plot. Khan stabbed two people to death before being shot dead by police.

“I think it is ridiculous, I think it is repulsive, that individuals as dangerous as this man should be allowed out after serving only eight years and that’s why we are going to change the law,” Johnson told Marr.

He blamed the previous Labour government for the decision: “His release was necessary under the law because of the automatic early release scheme under which he was sentenced, that was the reality, and that was brought in by Labour with the support of Jeremy Corbyn and the rest of the Labour party.”

The reality of the case is more complex. Khan was jailed in 2012 under an an indeterminate public protection sentence (IPP), a system scrapped under the coalition the same year. But an appeal in 2013 saw the sentence replaced by one of 16 years, and he was freed after serving just under half.

Since the attack, Johnson has pledged to end early release for people convicted of terrorism.

The father of the first of Khan’s victims to be named, Jack Merritt, who worked to help rehabilitate prisoners, has said that his son “would not wish his death to be used as the pretext for more draconian sentences or for detaining people unnecessarily”.

Johnson told Marr there were “probably about 74” convicted terrorists who had now been freed, saying these would be “properly invigilated to make sure there is no threat”.

Speaking earlier on Sky News, Jeremy Corbyn argued that a better approach would be to focus more on prison services, and the parole and rehabilitation help prisoners receive when they leave.

Asked by Marr whether he should apologise for cuts to probation services, Johnson said: “Obviously, I think we should be investing more in the criminal justice system.”

Asked why the Conservatives had not done this during their time in office, Johnson said his government was “new in our approach, and it’s new in the way we will tackle issues of public services”.

Usman Khan.
Usman Khan. Photograph: BBC News/PA

Questioned about the closure of nearly 300 magistrates and crown courts since 2010, he replied: “We of course understand, now is the time to make investments not just in the NHS, not just in policing, not just in education, but in our criminal justice system.”

During an often combative interview, which saw Marr repeatedly interrupt the prime minister to ask him to address the question asked, Johnson gave ground on several issues, accepting that 40 promised new hospitals were not as yet fully funded.

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“Of course not, but you don’t commit seed money unless you have a convincing case and a rationale for building that hospital, and you’re determined to go on and do it,” he said.

Johnson also conceded that though he had entered No 10 promising to tackle the social care crisis, the Conservative manifesto contained few details of how this would be done. “I accept that the full plan needs to be developed,” he said.

The BBC initially resisted Johnson appearing on Marr, as it is still seeking to get the prime minister to agree to a half-hour evening interview with Andrew Neil, as all the other main party leaders have done. The corporation changed its mind on Saturday, saying the London Bridge attack made the immediate interview necessary.

Johnson declined to say whether he would agree to the interview by Neil, an encounter politicians have often found challenging.

Johnson said he was “perfectly happy to be interviewed by any interviewer called Andrew from the BBC”, but said he had taken part in many interviews in the campaign.