Reading park attacker admits murdering three men in knife rampage

By Emily Pennink, Old Bailey Correspondent
·4-min read

A man has admitted murdering three men in a park during a stabbing spree.

Khairi Saadallah, 26, who prosecutors say was a terrorist, had been due to go on trial at the Old Bailey on November 30.

But at a hearing on Wednesday, he pleaded guilty to three murders and three attempted murders.

Saadallah launched a two-minute series of attacks in Forbury Gardens, Reading, shortly before 7pm on Saturday June 20.

James Furlong, 36, David Wails, 49, and Joseph Ritchie-Bennett, 39, all died, while three others – their friend Stephen Young, and Patrick Edwards and Nishit Nisudan, who were sitting in a nearby group – were injured.

History teacher Mr Furlong and Mr Ritchie-Bennett, a US citizen, were each stabbed once in the neck while scientist Mr Wails was stabbed once in the back. All three were declared dead at the scene.

Saadallah, of Basingstoke Road, Reading, entered his guilty pleas in the dock of court two of the Old Bailey.

Wearing a red and white hat and grey jacket, the defendant’s voice appeared muffled as he spoke while wearing a face mask.

Members of the victims’ families sat in court for the hearing before Mr Justice Sweeney.

The judge told the court the defendant had submitted a basis of plea, denying substantial preparation or planning and saying he was not motivated by an ideological cause, in contrast with the prosecution case which is that it was a terror attack.

Forbury Gardens incident
The victims of the terror attack (Family/PA)

Prosecutor Alison Morgan QC said the case merited a “whole life” sentencing.

The judge adjourned sentencing until the week of December 7.

The court heard several issues needed to be argued.

They included whether there was a substantial degree of pre-meditation and planning, whether it was for a religious, political or ideological cause and to what degree Saadallah’s mental state influenced his actions.

The victims’ loved ones sat in silence as they heard the guilty pleas.

Mr Ritchie-Bennett’s family in the US had attended court by video link.

On the afternoon of June 19, the defendant was captured on CCTV at Morrisons supermarket in Reading buying a large knife and a pair of gloves, according to a case summary.

Just after 6pm the next day, he left his flat wearing denim shorts, a hooded top and carrying a rucksack with a bandana tied around his leg,

At 6.52pm, he was caught on CCTV discarding his rucksack and damaging what was believed to be a mobile phone which was later recovered.

He walked into Forbury Gardens at 6.54pm, as numerous people, including children, enjoyed the fine weather.

Forbury Gardens incident
A general view of Forbury Gardens in Reading (Steve Parsons/PA)

According to eyewitnesses, he walked along a footpath when he suddenly ran towards a group of men sitting on the grass.

According to the case summary, the attack was “without warning or provocation and in rapid succession”.

He stabbed Mr Richie-Bennett and Mr Furlong once in the neck, severing their main arteries, and knifed Mr Wails once in the back.

He then stabbed Mr Young in the head, causing a deep cut that needed 28 stitches, and chased two other males.

Witnesses were said to have heard him shouting “Allah Akhbar”.

Saadallah turned his attention to a second group sitting nearby and stabbed Mr Edwards in the back and Mr Nisudan in the face and hands.

The defendant then discarded the knife and ran out of the park.

An off-duty police officer called 999 and followed the attacker, who was still shouting “Allah Akhbar” and “victory on infidels”, it is alleged.

Within minutes of the emergency call, he was apprehended by police.

Saadallah had a history of mental health issues, debt and homelessness, according to court documents.

He arrived in the UK as an asylum seeker in 2012, having fled the civil war in his home country of Libya in North Africa.

Saadallah had six previous convictions for 11 crimes between June 2015 and January last year, according to a 2019 Court of Appeal judgment obtained by the PA news agency.

He was originally jailed for 25 months and 20 days in October 2019 for a string of crimes but the sentence was reduced in March following an appeal.