A prison counter-terrorism expert has admitted to an inquest that he failed to pick up on warning signs about Usman Khan when he talked to him just before his deadly terror attack at Fishmongers’ Hall in London.
Steve Machin, the head of counter-terrorism at Whitemoor prison where Khan had been held 11 months before his attack, said he was not in a work “headspace” when he chatted to Khan at a prison education event in the hall, hosted by Cambridge University’s Learning Together organisation.
A few hours later Khan stabbed to death Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones.
At an inquest into their deaths Nick Armstrong, counsel for Merritt’s family, asked Machin why he did not think to question why Khan was wearing a thick coat indoors that turned out to be concealing a fake suicide vest.
Machin said Khan “provided a backstory” about a forecast for cold weather which “felt plausible”.
Armstrong suggested Machin had turned off his “security antennae” at the event because he had been taken in by Learning Together’s presentation of Khan as a success story for rehabilitating prisoners through education.
Machin said: “I couldn’t live my life expecting every encounter with the community or ex-offenders is going to lead to devastation, I couldn’t live with that level of paranoia.” He added he was “not in the same headspace as when I was at work”.
He added: “I saw him being involved [with Learning Together] as good, it hadn’t got to the point of a good news story.”
Armstrong replied: “The problem with a good news story is they’re not always true.”
Machin also denied hearing about reported problems of passing on of prison intelligence to meetings of the multi-agency public protection arrangements (Mappa) about Khan, at the time of his release in December 2018.
Machin said: “It wasn’t part of my remit to actually feed into this directly.”
Armstrong said: “I’m going to suggest that that needs much more tightening up.”
Machin replied: “We were following the requirements to comply with the Mappa process to the letter.” But he agreed with Armstrong that he was “siloing off” information about Khan’s risk.
Machin said: “There has been a lot of reflection on many aspects of my work which has changed. As a result of this, I am sure our policies will change and my way of working will change.”
Armstrong pressed Machin on why intelligence about Khan – which suggested he was seeking “a return to his old ways” – was not shared with Learning Together.
Machin replied: “One thing I will be taking back to work will be briefing non-intelligence agencies, what we can and can’t share.”
Armstrong said: “There is momentum building with Khan and Learning Together, he’s becoming a poster boy [for Learning Together], he’s becoming a success story, but that bubble needs puncturing. You don’t ring up and say: ‘Just watch him’?” Machin replied: “No.”
Last week Learning Together co-founders rejected the suggestion that Khan was a “poster boy” for them.
The inquest continues.