PM’s fury over 70 freed terrorists
Johnson blasts catalogue of failures over London Bridge jihadist and promises to scrap ‘failed’ early-release scheme
BORIS JOHNSON has ordered a review of dozens of violent terrorists released from prison in recent years, as he attacked the “failed approaches” that led to the early release of a convict who stabbed two people to death in the City of London.
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) launched an urgent inquiry to examine the licence conditions of up to 70 violent terrorists believed to have been freed from jail.
Terrorists out on licence are expected to face more frequent meetings with authorities from tomorrow, with increased restrictions. The move came as the Prime Minister pledged to make terrorists serve “every day” of their prison sentences, as part of a plan to help prevent further attacks.
Mr Johnson said he was “angry” that 28-year-old Usman Khan had been free to embark on a deadly rampage on Friday, having been jailed just seven years ago over a terror plot. He was released automatically in December 2018 only half way through his 16-year sentence.
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) last night claimed responsibility for the attack. The Sunday Telegraph understands that earlier this year Khan attended a Whitehall event under police escort. He was regarded as a model convict, who engaged willingly with the Government’s Prevent and Desistance and Disengagement programmes.
When he was invited to attend the criminal justice seminar on Friday, organised by Cambridge University, it was not regarded to be a problem. Insisting that the current system has “got to end”, Mr Johnson pledged to change the law to ensure that the sentences handed down for all terrorism and extremism offences represent the amount of time “actually served”, to prevent a repeat occurrence. He also said that the Conservatives would introduce a minimum sentence of 14 years for anyone convicted of serious terror offences, and reiterated a manifesto pledge to reform human rights laws to “shift the balance in favour of our security and intelligence services”.
More than 500 prisoners convicted of terror offences have been released since the Sept 11 attacks, according to MoJ figures. Around 70 of those were involved in plotting or carrying out attacks. An MoJ spokesman said last night: “Work is already advanced on reviewing the licence conditions of every terrorist offender, making sure conditions are as tough as they need to be. We are also stepping up our already frequent meetings with these offenders.”
Dame Louise Casey, the former integration tsar, said: “We have got to stop treating terrorists, who have been convicted of plotting to kill us, in exactly the same way as criminals who have been jailed for other offences, and automatically releasing them at the halfway point. It makes no sense.”
Khan was released from prison on licence despite a judge concluding in 2012 that he had embarked on an “ambitious” and “serious jihadist agenda”.
It emerged last night that he had been granted permission to travel to London from Staffordshire by the National Probation Service and police. He launched the attack at a conference on
prisoner rehabilitation, taking place at Fishmongers’ Hall near the north end of London Bridge.
Yesterday Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, blamed Labour for Khan’s early release, and Mr Johnson said: “What I have seen over the last 24 hours has made me angry – it’s absolutely clear that we can’t carry on with the failed approaches of the past.” Mr Johnson cited the Tories’ manifesto pledge to end the automatic release of prisoners halfway through their sentences for those jailed for serious crimes.
“If you are convicted of a serious terrorist offence, there should be a mandatory minimum sentence of 14 years – and some should never be released.
Further, for all terrorism and extremist offences the sentence announced by the judge must be the time actually served – these criminals must serve every day of their sentence, with no exceptions,” he said.
“These simple changes ... would have prevented this attack. I believe they will help stop further attacks.”
Mr Johnson claimed that Labour plans to review the powers exercised by the security services would “make it more difficult for our security services to stop people who want to do us harm.”
Jeremy Corbyn “wants to give more power to human rights lawyers, which would make us less safe,” he said.
Yesterday Mr Corbyn described the steps that led to Khan’s release as a “complete disaster”, calling for an investigation into “the way all aspects of our criminal justice system operate.” In a speech today, Mr Corbyn will say po
lice should be able to use “whatever force is necessary” if they believe an attacker is wearing a suicide vest.
He will blame 10 years of successive budget cuts for leaving “gaps” which have led to “missed chances to intervene in the lives of people who go on to commit inexcusable acts”.
Mr Johnson rejected any criticism of officers for shooting the attacker, saying: “They had to make split-second decisions.”
In Feb 2012 Khan and eight others pleaded guilty to a variety of terrorist offences. He was originally given an indeterminate sentence with a minimum term of eight years. Under this type of sentence, which was abolished in Dec 2012, prisoners would remain in jail until it was found they were safe to be released. But the sentence was dropped by the Court of Appeal in 2013 after Khan appealed. Sir Brian Leveson, then a Lord Justice of Appeal, ruled that the original decision had “wrongly characterised” Khan and two other men as more dangerous than the remaining defendants. Sir Brian ruled that the three men should have been given extended determinate sentences, stating that Khan had to serve 16 years. This sentence entailed an automatic release after Khan served half of the time.
The Parole Board confirmed that it had no involvement in his release and that Khan “appears to have been released automatically on licence”. The Sunday Telegraph understands that the other eight members of Khan’s London Stock Exchange terror plot gang are being kept under strict surveillance by security services following the attack.
Cambridge graduate Jack Merritt, 25, right, was named as one of the victims of the terror attacker Usman Khan, above