Tributes were paid to the first named victim of Friday’s London Bridge terrorist incident as the ensuing political fallout continues.
Jack Merritt, a 25-year-old law and criminology graduate working as a course coordinator for the University of Cambridge’s Learning Together prison education program, was stabbed in the incident at London’s Fishmongers Hall, in which an as-yet-unnamed woman was also killed, and several others injured.
The attacker, convicted terrorist Usman Khan, had been part of a Learning Together program and was invited to the fifth anniversary event at the hall by London Bridge to celebrate its work.
After the stabbing, he was restrained by members of the public before being shot dead by police. Their response was described as “reactive” rather than intelligence-led, suggesting that there had been no reason to think an attack was expected.
“RIP Jack: you were a beautiful spirit who always took the side of the underdog,” Jack Merritt’s father David Merritt wrote on Twitter. He called his son a “champion” for those who had been “dealt a losing hand by life, who ended up in the prison system”, and added that he did not want his death to be used as an excuse for “draconian sentences”.
Former BBC legal affairs correspondent and journalist Joshua Rozenberg, who had interviewed Merritt about his work in prisoner rehabilitation, called him “a fine young man, dedicated to improving people’s lives”.
Khan, 28, was jailed for his part in a plot to bomb the London Stock Exchange in 2012, and given a sentence of indeterminate length, with a minimum term of eight years, on the grounds of public protection. But the following year the Court of Appeal quashed this and instead gave him a fixed-term sentence of 16 years, half of which was to be served in prison.
The Ministry of Justice has subsequently confirmed that there are 74 convicted terrorists currently out of prison under supervision in the community.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson called Khan’s early release “ridiculous and repulsive” and has insisted violent offenders “must serve every day of their sentence, with no exceptions”, but Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn told Sky News he did not necessarily agree about sentencing.
“I think it depends on the circumstances and it depends on the sentence but crucially depends on what they’ve done in prison,” he said.
“I think there has to be an examination of how our prison services work and crucially what happens to them (offenders) on release from prison.”
He went on to say that there “has to be an examination of what goes on in the prison, because prisons ought to be a place where people are put away because of major serious offenses but also a place where rehabilitation takes place.”
A leading criminal barrister said that political toughtalk and harsher sentences were not necessarily the answer if the rehabilitation system was not given adequate support, and claimed that the probation service “has been destroyed” in recent years.
“The problem is what happens afterward, in the prisons when they are not rehabilitated and when they are released if there is not a system in place to properly look after them and protect the rest of us,” said Mark Fenhalls, the former chair of the Criminal Bar Association.
“Over the last 10 or 15 years, Parliament continuously changes laws and ramps up sentences in every regard, but what it does not do is put money into the system to make sure that people who have committed offenses are rehabilitated.”
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