Families of Reading terror attack victims welcome failed Court of Appeal bid

·5-min read

The families of the Reading terror attacker’s victims have welcomed his failed Court of Appeal bid against his sentence, saying “anything less would be a disgrace”.

Khairi Saadallah lost a Court of Appeal challenge against his whole-life sentence for the murders of three men following a hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice on Thursday.

Now 27, he was sentenced to die in prison after he fatally stabbed friends James Furlong, 36, Dr David Wails, 49, and Joseph Ritchie-Bennett, 39, on June 20 last year.

In a joint statement the three men’s families welcomed the upholding of his sentence after senior judges rejected Saadallah’s appeal bid.

“While nothing can bring back James, David and Joseph it gives us some comfort to know that Saadallah will spend the whole of the rest of his life behind bars and that the public will be protected from this dangerous man,” they said.

“The loss of James, Joseph and David has left a vast hole in all of our lives and not a day goes by that we don’t miss them tremendously.

“We were robbed of our loved ones and we look forward to getting more answers through the inquest process about the circumstances surrounding Saadallah’s actions and the various agencies that were involved with him.”

Reading attack victims
(left to right) Joe Ritchie-Bennett, James Furlong and David Wails, the three victims of the terror attack (Thames Valley Police/PA)

Three other people were injured in the approximately minute-long rampage in Forbury Gardens, Reading, before Saadallah threw away the eight-inch knife he used and attempted to flee.

Saadallah, of Basingstoke Road, Reading, pleaded guilty to three murders and three attempted murders.

Mr Justice Sweeney sentenced him at the Old Bailey to a whole-life order in January, saying it was a “rare and exceptional” case.

He was also handed concurrent 24-year jail terms for the attempted murders of Stephen Young, Patrick Edwards and Nishit Nisudan.

On Thursday Saadallah appeared at the Court of Appeal in London via video-link from Belmarsh Prison, wearing a dark jumper, to challenge the length of his sentence.

However, after a hearing, the Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett, sitting with Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb and Mr Justice Henshaw, said his challenge had been unsuccessful.

In a statement released after the ruling, Mr Furlong’s family, who were in court, said his loss was “a wound” they would carry for “the rest of our lives”, but added that his “legacy will live on” through those who knew him.

The family of Dr Wails have said they will “never recover” from his death, adding that he had been doing “valuable research to provide cleaner energy for the environment”.

“His expertise in this field is a loss to the world but his loss as a much-loved son, brother and uncle is far greater,” they said.

Mr Ritchie-Bennett’s family paid tribute to him as a “much-loved son, brother, uncle, cousin, and most importantly friend”, adding: “Our pain has never gone away, if anything it has grown worse with time.”

Saadallah’s barrister, Rossano Scamardella QC, told the court that the life-long sentence imposed on him was excessive and that the sentencing judge should have given a life sentence with a minimum prison term.

He argued that the attacks were not terror-related and that even “mundane day-to-day tasks” had been “demonised” as preparation for the murders.

“The way Mr Saadallah led his life was utterly inconsistent with being an Islamist extremist. He smoked cigarettes, abused alcohol, he took drugs, self-harmed, he had tattoos,” he continued.

Mr Scamardella also told the court that there was evidence that Saadallah identified as a Christian “as much, if not more”, than he did as a Muslim.

Khairi Saadallah
Khairi Saadallah (Facebook/PA)

He added: “Anyone genuinely fanatical about Islam would not countenance adopting another faith, even fleetingly.”

Mr Scamardella later told the Court of Appeal that while it was “impossible to deny” there was some planning, it was not substantial enough to justify the sentence.

The barrister also argued the prosecution had “demonised almost everything done by Mr Saadallah in the days leading up to the killings” without linking them to the crime.

This included purchasing clothes at Primark and changing into them, wearing gloves to use a cashpoint and repeatedly going to the communal rubbish bins outside his flat, the court heard.

Mr Scamardella described these as “confusing and strange behaviours” but said they were not evidence of substantial preparation for the murders.

However, the three senior judges said Saadallah’s appeal was not arguable.

Saadallah sat with his arms folded as the judgment was read out.

Reading attack
Floral tributes are left at Forbury Gardens, Reading, where the attack took place (Steve Parsons/PA)

Lord Burnett said: “We have concluded that there is no substance in any of the criticisms made of the judge’s conclusions. In these circumstances we refuse leave to appeal.”

The senior judges found that Saadallah’s planning and premeditation was “clearly substantial”.

They also rejected the argument that Saadallah was suffering a mental illness that impacted his culpability at the time of the killings.

“Each of the conclusions reached by the judge… were in our view obviously open to him (the sentencing judge),” Lord Burnett said.

“The whole-life order made by the judge cannot be suggested as even arguably wrong in law or manifestly excessive.”

Lord Burnett later said: “None should forget the consequences of those murders and attempted murders on those left behind and injured, or indeed the impact on Reading.

“We do not forget the families, friends and professional colleagues of those who died or those who were seriously injured,” he concluded.

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