Boris Johnson seeks to blame Labour for early release of London Bridge terrorist

By Harriet Line, Sophie Morris and Elizabeth Arnold, PA Political Staff

Boris Johnson has sought to blame Labour for the early release of the convicted terrorist who killed two people at London Bridge as the political row over the knife attack intensified.

The Prime Minister said Usman Khan, who was freed halfway through a 16-year jail sentence, was on the streets because of laws introduced by a “leftie government”.

He described the release of criminals who are “as dangerous as this man” as “repulsive” and vowed to take steps to ensure people are not released early when they commit serious offences.

But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said convicted terrorists should “not necessarily” serve their full prison sentence while shadow attorney general Shami Chakrabarti claimed it was “unedifying” to talk about “throwing away the keys”.

The Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, criticised the two main parties for seeking to use the incident as a “political football”.

On Saturday night, David Merritt said his son Jack, who was killed in the attack, would “not wish his death to be used as the pretext for more draconian sentences or for detaining people unnecessarily”.

In an interview on BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show, Mr Johnson said: “The reason this killer was out on the streets was because of automatic early release which was brought in by a leftie government.”

Pressed on cuts to prison and probation services and the rising levels of assaults on staff during this time, he added: “That is why this new Conservative administration is putting £2.5 billion into our prison service.”

Asked why this has not happened under the last years of Conservative government, he added: “I’m a new Prime Minister, we take a different approach.”

Mr Corbyn, meanwhile, told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday that it “depends on the circumstances” and that it was “not necessarily” the case that people convicted of terrorism offences needed to serve a full prison sentence.

(PA Graphics)

He said: “I think there has to be an examination of how our prison services work and crucially what happens to them on release from prison because I need to know whether or not the Parole Board were involved in his release, apparently they were not, they made that statement quite quickly after the release … after yesterday’s terrible incident.

“Secondly, there were apparently no probation service involvement in monitoring this former prisoner who, after all, had only served half his sentence and he came out, I think, a year ago and there has to be an examination of what goes on in the prison because prisons ought to be a place where people are put away because of major serious offences but also a place where rehabilitation takes place.”

Mr Corbyn said police were “stuck with a situation where there was a credible threat of a bomb belt around his body and it’s an awful situation for any police officer, any public servant to be put in” as he backed the decision to kill the attacker.

The row came as:

– Mr Johnson insisted there would be no tariffs and checks on goods moving from Northern Ireland into Great Britain.

– The PM again failed to commit to an interview by the BBC’s Andrew Neil, despite Mr Corbyn being grilled by the veteran journalist last week.

– Mr Corbyn said he poses “no threat” to “any community whatsoever” despite a poll suggesting 84% of people believe he is a threat to British Jews.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab insisted that the Tories were not politicising the attack but taking “necessary” measures to protect the public.

And he said: “We’ve said that we would expect for the serious terrorist offences a minimum of a 14-year sentence.

“We don’t think that it is the case that they should necessarily be released, we think for some offences they should be imprisoned for life and we also think that terrorist offenders should serve their full sentence, both as a matter of public protection and also confidence in the system.”

He added: “I think again you saw the difference with Jeremy Corbyn, he said that offenders shouldn’t necessarily serve their full sentence, so when you ask the question… who do you trust to keep us safe, again it is the Conservatives and Boris Johnson who are willing to take the measures in these very difficult, challenging times to keep Britain safe.”

A Sentencing Bill included in the Queen’s Speech in October, which became defunct once the election was called, would have changed the automatic release point from halfway to two thirds for adult offenders serving sentences of four years or more for serious violence or sexual offences.

Judges can already impose extended sentences for offenders assessed as “dangerous”, where they will serve two thirds, but the proposed legislation would make the longer jail terms mandatory for certain offences.