Johnson saw London attack as election opportunity - victim's father

Undated combination image of Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones, victims of the London bridge stabbing attack

LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson saw an attack by a convicted terrorist earlier this month near London Bridge as an opportunity to score political points ahead of a Dec. 12 election, the father of one of the victims said on Tuesday.

Criminal justice was thrust to the centre of the campaign after Usman Khan, who had been released early from prison, killed Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23 - both active in a programme on prisoner rehabilitation.

Johnson vowed to invest more in the prison system and toughen sentences, blaming the opposition Labour Party for a law passed more than a decade ago that provided for some prisoners to be released early automatically.

"What was required was just a dignified approach, whereby the politicians would express their regrets, express their condolences ... and would then get on with campaigning in the election," Dave Merritt said in an interview with Sky News.

"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 and he immediately said this is Labour's fault, they allowed this to happen."

Merritt said his son, who had known Khan, was passionate about helping people to redeem themselves and would have been "extremely upset" at the way his death was being used.

A spokesman for Johnson said the prime minister had "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," the spokesman added.

Merritt said he had not had any contact from Johnson or his office, and that the family had declined an offer, made through the police, to meet interior minister Priti Patel to express her condolences.

Asked whether he himself was politicising the event, Merritt said he would not have spoken up if the attack had not been used in a political way.

"If anybody has a right to say something about this situation then it is me and his family: we have lost Jack, Jack can’t speak for himself anymore," he said.

"The fact that it was used in such a political way ... it was important that somebody said something and that just happened to be me."

(Reporting by Kylie MacLellan; editing by Stephen Addison)