The father of London Bridge terror victim Jack Merritt has said the prime minister made no effort to contact him before using his son’s death to justify tougher sentencing, telling Sky News: “Instead of seeing a tragedy, Boris Johnson saw an opportunity.”
In his first broadcast interview since his son’s murder on 29 November, David Merritt said that Mr Johnson’s call in the wake of the terror attack for an end to the early release of those guilty of extremism offences was a “knee-jerk reaction” and “an ill-considered intervention”.
The TV interview could not come at a more sensitive time for the prime minister, just two days ahead of the 12 December general election, in the campaign for which he has made great play of the Conservatives’ offer on security.
Mr Johnson wrote an article in The Mail on Sunday – the day after Jack and a fellow Cambridge University graduate were stabbed to death by Usman Khan – in which he criticised “failed approaches of the past” to crime and terrorism.
Mr Merritt told Sky: “It reinforced my views and my feelings about the way in which this situation was being exploited.
“It just struck me as being crass and insensitive and – as we’ve already said – Jack would have been extremely upset at the way things were developing.”
“What was required was just a dignified approach whereby the politicians would express their regrets, express the condolences to the people affected and then get on with campaigning in the election. It wasn’t an election issue.
“Where most of us were watching this and seeing a tragedy unfolding before our eyes, instead of seeing a tragedy, Boris Johnson saw an opportunity, and he went on the offensive.
“He saw an opportunity to score some points in the election.
“Immediately he said ‘This is Labour’s fault, they allowed this to happen, they had this early release policy and so on,’ and at that point I had to say something.”
Mr Merritt said he found Mr Johnson’s approach “very offensive”, adding: “There was no attempt to contact us and discuss this with us or with anybody else, as far as I know.”
The only contact made by the authorities came via a police liaison officer who asked if the family would like to meet home secretary Priti Patel so that she could offer her condolences, which they declined.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Mr Johnson told Sky News: “The prime minister has expressed his deepest condolences to Mr Merritt for his tragic loss – an experience no family should have to go through.
“The prime minister’s view remains it is ‘extraordinary and wrong’ that Khan had been released halfway through his prison sentence and has long argued that sentencing should be tougher for violent and extremist offenders.”
Mr Merritt revealed that his son already knew released terror convict Khan, who had been invited to a conference on rehabilitation run by the Learning Together programme with which he worked.
“It makes it more unbelievable, because I can’t imagine how someone who had been befriended and helped by someone like Jack could then in a very calculating way kill them,” he said.
“The only one responsible for what he did was him. I’m not going to start lashing out and say somebody should have stopped this or somebody was responsible for this.
“Immediately people start jumping on the criminal justice bandwagon, advocating longer sentences and harsher penalties and I knew how passionate (Jack) was about rehabilitation and letting people redeem themselves.”