Khalid Masood: How popular schoolboy became a mass murderer who brought terror to Westminster

Adam Lusher
​Khalid Masood began as plain Adrian, born on Christmas Day 1964 in Erith on the Kent-London border: Metropolitan Police

As fears grew that Khalid Masood had not been the lone wolf many had originally assumed, more details emerged of the seemingly rootless, troubled life of the Westminster terrorist attacker.

The locations varied from Tunbridge Wells, byword for bourgeois respectability, to prison.

The perceptions of those he encountered on the way veered from “all-round nice guy” to troubled – and troubling – violent thug.

​Khalid Masood began as plain Adrian, born on Christmas Day 1964 in Erith on the Kent-London border, to Janet Elms, a white 17-year-old single mother and a black father.

Within two years, there was a stepfather: Janet married Phillip Ajao in 1966 in Crawley, West Sussex.

The family moved on to the St James’ Park area of Tunbridge Wells, Kent, and here Masood, now going by his stepfather’s surname as Adrian Ajao, appears to have been a happy and popular schoolboy.

Aged 15, at Huntley School for Boys, he was among a group of lads smiling for the camera as they took part in a 24-hour sponsored five-a-side tournament for charity.

“He was a very nice guy, down to earth, liked by everyone around him,” said Stuart Knight, one of the other boys in the photograph, now a 52-year-old butcher.

“He was a very good sportsman, his mother was a Christian, he was an all-round nice guy.”

Khalid Masood during his school days, when he was known as Adrian Ajao (Huntley School)

Yet after leaving school at 16, and moving to Rye, East Sussex, Masood began what was to become a lengthy criminal career.

His first conviction was just before his nineteenth birthday, in November 1983, for criminal damage.

At some point, there was also an estrangement from his respectable family, which is thought to have included two half-brothers.

His mother moved to rural Trelech in Carmarthenshire, West Wales, about 15 years ago and ended up running a business selling handmade bags and cushions from her farmhouse. Her home was blocked by a police van and officers.

A mechanic at the garage in the tiny village insisted that whatever the son had done, the mother and her husband Phillip, now thought to be in poor health, were “good people”.

Masood appears to have tried to find respectability himself, having a child in 1992 and moving to the quiet Sussex village of Northiam “to give his family and himself a better and more tranquil way of life”, as a court would later hear. It didn’t work.

Some locals found him intelligent, but unsettling.

Alice Williams, 59, landlady of the Rose and Crown pub in the nearby village of Beckley where Masood would sometimes drink, recalled a man who was “very intelligent, but always slightly sinister”.

“He would do The Telegraph crossword and would make intelligent conversation,” said Ms Williams. “But he was a bit racist. He always had a chip on his shoulder.”

In an incident that – in Masood’s mind if no one else’s – may have led to a sense of alienation and grievance, he was convicted in 2000 of wounding and criminal damage.

After a row at the Crown and Thistle pub in Northiam, Masood, who had drunk four pints during the afternoon, slashed café owner Piers Mott with a knife, leaving him with a face wound that needed 20 stitches.

It was said at the time that Masood had been one of only two black men in the village. And Alexander Taylor-Camara, Masood’s defence barrister, told Hove Crown Court: “There were racial overtones in the argument between himself and the victim. He let that get to him – unusually, because in the past he has been able to shrug off that sort of abuse.”

“His wife and family have now become ostracised in the village,” added Mr Taylor-Camara. “It is a very small community and his wife and family have been extremely affected by this.”

Masood – sentenced under the name Adrian Elms – was jailed for two years.

Another sentence for knife crime would follow. In 2003, he was jailed for six months for possession of an offensive weapon after a man was stabbed in the nose and left with injuries that needed cosmetic surgery following a row outside a nursing home in East Sussex.

Heather Mott, widow of the victim of the first incident, recalled, in apparent contrast to what the defence lawyer had claimed in court, that her late husband had simply been seeking to defend someone who was working for him.

And Ms Mott, whose husband died in 2008, went on to make a potentially prescient observation about Masood’s two jail sentences: “He was obviously prone to being radicalised. He has come out even worse.”

She is not the first this week to raise the possibility that Masood followed the now-well trodden jihadi path of criminality followed by radicalisation.

He spent time in Wayland Prison in Norfolk and Lewes Jail in Sussex. At the time, awareness of the potential for inmates to be radicalised in jail was in its infancy.

And Lewes, judging by a riot that occurred there in October 2003, and an HM Inspectorate of Prisons report from 2000, was hardly the perfect place for rehabilitating offenders.

In exasperated tones, Sir David Ramsbotham, then Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons, wrote of parts of the Victorian jail being “in desperate need of refurbishment”, and of an increasing number of prisoners seeking protection from fellow inmates.

After being released from jail, Masood appears to have taken another possible route towards radicalism, or – perhaps by this stage – increasing radicalisation.

In a CV seen by The Sun newspaper, Masood claims to have gone to Saudi Arabia – a stronghold of the hardline strain of Wahhabi Islam favoured by Al-Qaeda – in 2005.

This was a year after marrying Farzana Malik, a Muslim woman, in the Medway area of Kent.

On his CV Masood claims to have acquired a qualification in teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL), and worked in Yanbu, Saudi Arabia.

In 2006, though, he is thought to have returned to the UK, living in Crawley, West Sussex. Here – in a town which like others in Masood’s life has produced its share of home-grown terror plotters – he appears to have been something of a nuisance neighbour.

One report suggests that Masood once jumped out of a third floor window of his home to escape police. Former neighbours were reported to have described Masood, by now a keen and physically imposing bodybuilder, as violent, abusive and “bad news”.

The CV seen by The Sun would suggest that Masood then returned to Saudi Arabia, teaching workers at the General Authority of Civil Aviation in Jeddah, in 2008 and 2009.

Masood, according to his CV, then returned to Luton, another English town which has acquired an unwelcome reputation for harbouring a minority of Islamist extremists.

Here, if the CV is to be believed, he taught at a TEFL college as a “senior English teacher”, supervising seven other staff – despite his criminal convictions.

On his CV, he described himself as an experienced TEFL teacher with “extensive success in sales management … friendly and approachable, as well as being a good listener”.

Former neighbours in Luton recall a rather more aloof character.

“He was always shy,” said one resident near the property where Masood had lived between 2010 and 2011. “I didn’t see him often.”

He always wore black Islamic dress with a black beanie hat, she said.

“I didn’t see him during the day. Sometimes I would see him walking around at night. He was like a shadow. It was hard to tell he was living there.”

There was yet another move, to Forest Gate in east London.

By this time, apparently divorced from Farzana Malik, Masood appears to have been living with another woman. A flat linked to this woman in the former Olympic village in east London has now been raided by police, with officers saying the occupants “would not be returning any time soon”.

Masood’s last home was in Birmingham. His CV appears to suggest he set up his own English language tutoring business in 2012, reportedly promising Arabian students aged 18 to 30 “effective” teaching from beginner to PhD level.

Outwardly, he was a respectable middle-aged man now, with a female partner and children of primary school age. “Polite – friendly in every interaction,” in the words of one neighbour in the Winson Green cul-de-sac where Masood had been living until December.

The 52-year-old was still putting on the friendly act at his last stop: the three-star Preston Park Hotel in Brighton, where he spent his last night alive.

“He was very friendly, laughing and joking,” Sabeur Toumi, the hotel manager, told Sky News. Masood even mentioned his “wonderful children”.

Then the ex-jailbird checked out, said he was going to London for the day, and perpetrated the most murderous terrorist attack in Britain since 2005.

By using Yahoo you agree that Yahoo and partners may use Cookies for personalisation and other purposes