IT WOULD be a “shame” were the London Bridge terrorist attack to be “used to increase the prison population”, the Bishop of Kensington, Dr Graham Tomlin, said this week.
Last Friday, two people, Saskia Jones and Jack Merritt, were murdered by Usman Khan, a man released from prison under licence one year ago, after serving seven years of a 16-year prison sentence for his part in an al-Qaeda-inspired bomb plot. All three were attending a conference on prisoner rehabilitation at Fishmongers’ Hall.
A further three people were injured. Mr Khan, who was wearing a fake suicide vest, was shot dead by police on the bridge after being tackled to the ground by members of the public.
Speaking on Monday, Dr Tomlin said: “We need to work with the God-given desire to change that is within many prisoners. Money for the prisons system is never a vote winner: political parties will never be elected on this. It’s easier to say they will lock people up — but it is a no-brainer in the long term.
“The long-term effects are good for everyone. It is short-sighted to hold back on rehabilitation.”
Mr Merritt was a criminal-justice expert and a campaigner, and a course co-ordinator for the University of Cambridge’s Learning Together criminal-justice programme, which hosted the event at Fishmongers’ Hall.
His father, David Merritt, described him as a “caring and selfless individual”. In a message posted on Twitter, he also pleaded that his son’s death not be made political: “[Jack] would not wish his death to be used as the pretext for more draconian sentences or for detaining people unnecessarily.”
The Prime Minister, speaking on The Andrew Marr Show on BBC1 on Sunday, had blamed Labour for the murderer’s early release from prison. Boris Johnson said: “His release was necessary under the law because of the automatic early-release scheme under which he was sentenced . . . and that was brought in by Labour with the support of Jeremy Corbyn and the rest of the Labour Party.”
David Merritt wrote in The Guardian: “He [Jack] would be seething at his death, and his life, being used to perpetuate an agenda of hate that he gave his everything fighting against. We should never forget that. What Jack would want from this is for all of us to walk through the door he has booted down, in his black Doc Martens.
“That door opens up a world where we do not lock up and throw away the key. Where we do not give indeterminate sentences, or convict people on joint enterprise.
“Where we do not slash prison budgets, and where we focus on rehabilitation not revenge. Where we do not consistently undermine our public services, the lifeline of our nation. Jack believed in the inherent goodness of humanity, and felt a deep social responsibility to protect that. Through us all, Jack marches on.”
Mr Johnson refused to back down on Tuesday, emphasising that he has “campaigned for tougher sentencing for a long time”.
Ms Jones was also a member of the Learning Together programme. Her family, in a statement, said: “Saskia had a great passion for providing invaluable support to victims of criminal injustice, which led her to the point of recently applying for the police graduate-recruitment programme, wishing to specialise in victim support.”
Dr Tomlin said: “Prisoner rehabilitation is a really important concept that we need to keep in full view. Our prisons are full. They are not healthy places to be. They are places where we gather together some of the most vulnerable people in society.
“Reoffending rates are so high, and we have to pay huge amounts of money [£40,000 per prisoner per annum] for prisons if we don’t do rehabilitation work. It’s a no-brainer. . .
“It needs serious investment. . . A lot of prison officers are overstretched; their numbers have gone down. We need proper investment in education and rehabilitation.” Dr Tomlin also spoke of the work of the Church, linking people with a community on their release.
The Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, said that victims of the London Bridge terrorist attack last Friday were “celebrating rehabilitation”, but found “only danger”. She was speaking at a vigil on Monday morning for the victims of the attack.
London Bridge had been the scene of a terrorist attack two years ago (News, 9 June 2017), in which eight people died.
The Dean of Southwark, the Very Revd Andrew Nunn, wrote in a blog published on Sunday that people disturbed by the London Bridge attack should hold on to “a belief in the strength that comes through diversity, always knowing that acts of terror can never defeat acts of love”.
In a statement on social media on Friday, the Archbishop of Canterbury prayed that Christ might comfort the bereaved and the “wonderful” police and ambulance crews.
“As well as that, what a privilege to live in a country where casual passers-by are so astonishingly brave. Whatever we disagree about during an election, we can be united in celebrating such examples. Let those of faith thank God for the gift of such people; let all of us be glad.”