Heartbreaking tributes to Reading terror victims in memorial service a year on

20 June 2021, 18:48 | Updated: 20 June 2021, 20:27

The families of the three victims of the terror attack at Forbury Gardens hug each other
The families of the three victims of the terror attack at Forbury Gardens hug each other. Picture: PA

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Family and friends of three men killed in a terror attack have told of their heartache at a memorial service a year after their deaths.

James Furlong, 36, Dr David Wails, 49, and Joseph Ritchie-Bennett, 39, were murdered in Forbury Gardens, Reading, on June 20 last year.

The three friends had been enjoying a summer evening together as lockdown restrictions eased when they were attacked by 26-year-old failed Libyan asylum seeker Khairi Saadallah.

On Sunday afternoon, a series of tributes were read out about them as hundreds of people gathered to commemorate one year since their deaths.

People attend the memorial service at Forbury Gardens bandstand
People attend the memorial service at Forbury Gardens bandstand. Picture: PA
Family and friends laid a single yellow rose each
Family and friends laid a single yellow rose each. Picture: PA

A close friend of Dr Walis, Ken Murphy, speaking on behalf of family and friends, said: "They say time is a great healer but I don't think we will ever recover from the loss of David, James and Joe in such a terrible way in these gardens.

"However, we pray they are now at peace and are able to look down at us, and are happy with the love shown for them and the tributes being paid to them by everyone here today."

The brother of Mr Furlong, Gary, told of the impact he had on the lives of others.

He said: "James was a gentle soul, kind and caring, his morals were impeccable, never swayed by personal incentives, no matter the cost and consequence to him.

"He was truly a selfless man, his life was a story of triumph over adversity, coming out as a gay man so young in a time when acceptance was not where it is today."

Mr Furlong told of how James' "lifelong goal" was to become a history teacher, saying he "brightened" so many lives.

Family members of Dr David Wails
Family members of Dr David Wails. Picture: PA
Members of the emergency services also attended
Members of the emergency services also attended. Picture: PA

Martin Cooper spoke of his friend Mr Ritchie-Bennett's sense of humour and the love he had for his family.

He added: "Joe was a blessing to the entire world but most importantly a blessing to our entire family for 39 years.

"To know Joe was to love Joe, we never met anyone who didn't love Joe, his mere presence made you smile.

"It took very little effort on his part to make you laugh.

"Joe was warm, he was genuine, he was welcoming, he loved people. In Joe's heart there were no strangers, only friends he had yet to meet."

Mr Cooper went on to say: "We love you Joe, we are so very sorry this happened to you, our heart aches for you every day."

Joe Ritchie-Bennett, James Furlong and David Wails
Joe Ritchie-Bennett, James Furlong and David Wails. Picture: PA

The service was led by Cllr David Stevens, Mayor of Reading, and was followed by the laying of floral tributes at the Forbury Bandstand.

He said: "David, James and Joseph you will not be forgotten."

Three other people - Stephen Young, 51, Patrick Edwards, 29, and Nishit Nisudan, 34 - were also injured before Saadallah threw away the eight-inch knife and ran off, pursued by an off-duty police officer.

Saadallah was handed a whole-life sentence in January after he pleaded guilty to three murders and three attempted murders.