London victims advocated for rehab
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.