Once again, we are stunned at a senseless murder attack, motivated by extremist ideology. Once more, we are overwhelmed by the horror of the event and wondering how such an atrocity could happen yet again. The media have focussed on a number of relevant factors, all of which are being widely discussed, and will only be touched upon lightly here.
Last Friday's rampage on London Bridge has thrown up a number of diverse heroes, all of whom deserve the highest praise. Among the men who reportedly overpowered Usman Khan were a Polish national (Lukasz Koczocik), a Muslim dishwasher, a tour guide, a British Transport Police officer, one ex-offender, Marc Conway and a convicted murderer, James Ford.
According to The Guardian:
"Among those who pinned down the attacker was James Ford, 42, who is also thought to have tried to save the life of a woman who had been stabbed. Ford was jailed for life in 2004 for the murder of 21-year-old Amanda Champion."
The irony of two ex-offenders helping a police officer is mind-blowing, as is the idea of a murderer (Ford) restraining another (Khan). Professor David Wilson told The Guardian:"He (Professor Wilson) said what had happened was a tale of two prisoners, with Ford an example of how people could change. “I know through my work that people do change and they change as a consequence of innovative but challenging regimes such as the one at HMP Grendon."
Apart from these disparate civilians, the reaction of the police was truly admirable. At the last London Bridge attack, about two years ago, it took an armed response unit seven minutes to arrive at the crime scene; this time it took five minutes. And, I am happy to say, nobody criticises the police for liquidating Khan, although some troll did put out a misleading tweet in Jeremy Corbyn's name.
The other issue is that of why Khan was released early from jail. Much is being said on this issue (rightly) and I do not want to comment directly. However, I can only compare Khan's early release to the early release of murderous mental health patients who kill again on release, which is a subject I have written about before. Khan had not actually killed anyone before being imprisoned, but he was planning to do it on a big scale. Our old pal, Nigel Farage, has said that anyone who commits a terrorist offence should never be released. Nigel is seeking to ride on a wave of public anger and will undoubtedly say that he is simply speaking for "ordinary people". Perhaps Professor David Wilson and Nigel Farage should hold a TV debate on this subject - perhaps we should all be talking about it.
I can only point out that the much-vaunted deradicalization programmes in prison do not seem to be working as well as they are supposed to. People are not automatons that can be re-programmed like robots or computers. Usman Khan seems to have voluntarily undertaken such courses in prison. He must have gone through them like atheists who listen politely in church, yet remain atheists. For Khan, and imprisoned terrorists like him, these deradicalization courses must seem a good way to work your ticket.
Returning to the analogy of released mental health patients, we see in Khan's early release an error of judgement of the same gravity as those made by the mental health authorities with Nicola Edgington and Kordian Filmanowicz. This is a fiendishly difficult matter to resolve: how do we decide when it is safe for violent prisoners to be released? And how can we prevent relapses - whether into extremism or mental health driven violence?
In conclusion, I would like to say that our hearts should go out to the victims of Khan's attack - in particular to the families of Saskia Jones (23) and Jack Merritt (25) - two young lives cruelly snuffed out; both bright, hopeful and heading for good careers - people the world needs. At least we can say goodnight to Usman Khan, who was no asset to humanity. Unfortunately, there seems to be nothing to stop others following in his footsteps.