Lon­don vic­tims ad­vo­cated for re­hab

National Post (National Edition) - - News - ME­GAN SPE­CIA

LON­DON • They were two bright, ide­al­is­tic young peo­ple who be­lieved pas­sion­ately in prison re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and threw them­selves into a pro­gram that ed­u­cates in­mates, aim­ing to give them hope and re­duce their odds of re­of­fend­ing.

On Fri­day, a cel­e­bra­tion of that pro­gram be­came the tragic last act of their lives. Both re­cent Cam­bridge Univer­sity grad­u­ates, they then be­came vic­tims of a mur­der­ous ram­page by a former pris­oner, an alum­nus of the very pro­gram they had ded­i­cated them­selves to.

The two vic­tims — Saskia Jones, 23, and Jack Mer­ritt, 25 — died and three oth­ers were in­jured in what po­lice have called a ter­ror­ist at­tack in cen­tral Lon­don. The episode seized the nation’s at­ten­tion and raised tough ques­tions about the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion sys­tem they were so de­voted to, and about Bri­tain’s crim­i­nal sen­tenc­ing, prison re­lease and post-re­lease su­per­vi­sion.

They came from towns far re­moved from the ur­ban crime that would be­come such a fo­cus of their lives — Jones in Strat­ford-upon-Avon, in the West Mid­lands, and Mer­ritt in Cot­ten­ham, near Cam­bridge.

She vol­un­teered with Cam­bridge’s Learn­ing To­gether pro­gram af­ter grad­u­at­ing with a mas­ter’s in phi­los­o­phy from the univer­sity in 2018. She had re­cently ap­plied for a po­lice re­cruit­ment pro­gram, her fam­ily said, and planned to spe­cial­ize in vic­tim sup­port.

Friends and rel­a­tives de­scribed Jones as warm, de­ter­mined and ded­i­cated to the idea that in­mates should have op­por­tu­ni­ties to re­form and build the foun­da­tions for pro­duc­tive lives.

“She had a won­der­ful sense of mis­chievous fun and was gen­er­ous to the point of al­ways want­ing to see the best in all peo­ple,” her fam­ily said. “She was in­tent on liv­ing life to the full and had a won­der­ful thirst for knowl­edge.”

Mer­ritt was a pro­gram co­or­di­na­tor who be­gan work­ing with Learn­ing To­gether af­ter grad­u­at­ing from Cam­bridge, also with a mas­ter’s of phi­los­o­phy, in 2017.

In a state­ment, Mer­ritt’s fam­ily re­mem­bered him as a man who “lived his prin­ci­ples.”

“He be­lieved in re­demp­tion and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion, not re­venge, and he al­ways took the side of the un­der­dog,” the fam­ily said.

A vigil to hon­our Jones, Mer­ritt and those in­jured in the at­tack was held Mon­day in Guild­hall Yard in cen­tral Lon­don, along with trib­utes to the emer­gency ser­vices and mem­bers of the pub­lic who re­sponded to the at­tack — some of whom had links to Learn­ing To­gether, in­clud­ing former pris­on­ers.

Their killer, Us­man Khan, 28, was part of a gang that plot­ted in 2010 to plant ex­plo­sives in the Lon­don Stock Ex­change.

He was sen­tenced to 16 years in prison but was re­leased last year, hav­ing served eight years.

The judge at his trial had warned about the threat he might still have posed to the pub­lic.

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