Fishmongers’ Hall attacker Usman Khan was considered safe to enrol on an inmate education programme whose academics he would later stab, despite intelligence he was still involved in radicalisation and gang-related violence in jail, his former prison governor said.
Will Styles, who was in charge of HMP Whitemoor in Cambridgeshire before Khan’s release in December 2018, said senior staff concluded Khan should be allowed to join a creative writing course run by Learning Together.
Mr Styles said he was confident he was “given a picture” of Khan’s behaviour in prison at the time, adding he was aware the convicted jihadi was “a difficult and risky character”.
But he said the decision was made to permit the 28-year-old from Staffordshire to join.
Khan would go on to be considered a “success story” for Learning Together, the inquests previously heard, so much so that he was invited to a celebration event in central London on November 29 2019, a year after his release from prison, where he fatally stabbed Cambridge graduates Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23.
Giving evidence at the inquests into their deaths, at City of London’s Guildhall on Friday, Mr Styles said: “The concern was he was a (terror) offender.
“Consideration was given to risk, opportunity, benefit.
“Some of the coursework involved ethics, and there was discussion whether someone with a history of extremist ideology would be able to participate respectfully in a discussion about ethics.”
He said it was concluded that Khan should be able to join Learning Together, despite intelligence Khan had been involved in radicalisation inside prison, and that he was considered something of a gang member.
He said: “I thought the risks presented were controllable and the potential benefits for Usman given his fairly imminent release – I thought it was a positive opportunity for Usman and for us.”
He said Learning Together was deemed the “lowest level of risk” of any activity within HMP Whitemoor, and so felt there was no reason to exclude terrorist prisoners from the programme.
Asked if there was any evidence Learning Together might increase a prisoner’s risk, Mr Styles replied: “Absolutely not.”
The inquest jury previously heard evidence of how Khan’s behaviour improved in the final year of his eight-year sentence for plotting a terror training camp in Pakistan, where his mother and father were from.
Khan armed himself with kitchen knives while hiding in a toilet at Fishmongers’ Hall, before emerging to kill two guests – including Mr Merritt, who he had worked with extensively – and injure three others, before being chased and disarmed on nearby London Bridge by three men armed with a fire extinguisher and a narwhal tusk.
He was then killed by police.
The inquests also heard how Khan sought to downplay the seriousness of his previous offending during his frustrated attempts to find a job, telling the Department for Work and Pensions: “It was only fundraising.”
The inquests were adjourned until Tuesday.