Reading terror attacker handed whole-life sentence for park murders

Emily Pennink and Henry Vaughan, PA
·4-min read

The Reading terror attacker who murdered three men in a park in a “swift, ruthless and brutal” knife attack has been handed a whole-life sentence.

Khairi Saadallah, 26, shouted “Allahu akhbar” as he fatally stabbed friends James Furlong, 36, Dr David Wails, 49, and Joseph Ritchie-Bennett, 39, on June 20 last year.

Three other people – Stephen Young, 51, Patrick Edwards, 29, and Nishit Nisudan, 34 – were also injured before Saadallah threw away the eight-inch knife and ran off, pursued by an off-duty police officer.

As he was detained, a Muslim member of the public told him: “You have nothing to do with Islam, bastard,” adding: “I am just livid.”

The failed Libyan asylum seeker had launched the attacks in Forbury Gardens, Reading, as the victims were enjoying a summer evening after the first lockdown restrictions in England were relaxed.

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

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

The judge said: “The two groups were each doing nothing more than sitting in gardens, a focal point of Reading since the 18th century.”

The victims were each killed with a single thrust of the knife with the attack lasting less than a minute.

Mr Justice Sweeney said: “His attack on them was so swift, ruthless and brutal that none of them had any chance to react, let alone to defend themselves.

“Using his combat experience in each of their cases the defendant targeted a vulnerable area where a single thrust of the knife would, as he intended, inevitably cause death.”

(Left to right) Joe Ritchie-Bennett, James Furlong and David Wails
(Left to right) Joe Ritchie-Bennett, James Furlong and David Wails (Thames Valley Police/PA)

The judge said the defendant had done substantial planning.

He added: “During the course of the attack and afterwards and because he was seeking to advance a political, religious or ideological cause, the defendant was shouting in Arabic, ‘God is the greatest’ and ‘God accept my jihad’.”

He rejected the argument that Saadallah was suffering a mental illness at the time of the killings.

Saadallah, wearing a grey jacket over a sweater and a red and white hat, showed no emotion as he was sentenced.

Mr Justice Sweeney said he had “no doubt that this is a rare and exceptional case in which just punishment requires you must be kept in prison for the rest of your life.”

His victims’ families appeared emotional as the judge sentenced Saadallah to a whole-life term.

Speaking outside court, Mr Furlong’s father Gary welcomed the whole life sentence but said there were “serious questions” over why Saadallah was free to kill having obtained a “litany” of convictions for violence since seeking asylum in 2012.

James Furlong’s father Gary Furlong makes a statement outside the Old Baile
James Furlong’s father Gary Furlong makes a statement outside the Old Bailey (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

He said: “Whilst in prison it was decided by the Secretary of State on June, 4 2020, just two weeks prior to the attack, that his deportation was in the public interest but for legal reasons it could not happen.

“Despite his criminal history and threats made before the attack, he was then released back into society immediately and was freely able to commit this horrendous act on the public.”

Mr Ritchie-Bennett’s brother in law Stephen Bennett said: “Unfortunately, no amount of justice will ever bring back Joe, James and David the lives they deserve.

“And never will it allow family members, loved ones, friends and those who witnessed the attacks to forget 20th June 2020.”

He was also sentenced to concurrent 24-year jail terms for each count of attempted murder.

Previously, prosecutor Alison Morgan QC had said: “The defendant was aiming to inflict the maximum amount of damage in the shortest possible time to allow him to kill as many people as possible.

Since arriving in Britain in 2012, Saadallah had been convicted of various offences including theft and assault.

During his time at HMP Bullingdon, he sought out the company of prominent radical preacher Omar Brooks, who is associated with the banned terrorist organisation Al-Muhajiroun.

Saadallah was released from HMP Bullingdon on June 5 last year.

He set about researching the location for his attack, carrying out reconnaissance, and bought a knife at a Morrisons supermarket.

Saadallah had contact with his probation officer and was visited by police on June 19 over concern for his mental state.

However, a psychiatrist had since concluded that the events of June 20 were “unrelated to the effects of either mental disorder or substance misuse”.