Liverpool bomb: Couple who lived with suspect believed he 'wouldn’t harm a fly'

16 November 2021, 23:59 | Updated: 17 November 2021, 07:49

A couple who took in the suspect in the Liverpool bomb attack believed he was an "absolutely genuine" Christian.
A couple who took in the suspect in the Liverpool bomb attack believed he was an "absolutely genuine" Christian. Picture: Alamy

By Megan Hinton

A christian couple who lived with the suspect in the Liverpool Remembrance Sunday bomb attack, believed he was an "absolutely genuine" person who had a "real passion for Jesus Christ".

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Emad Al Swealmeen died in an explosion in a taxi outside Liverpool Women's Hospital shortly before 11am on Remembrance Sunday, police have declared as a terror incident.

A couple who lived with the suspect described how they were "absolutely stunned" when they heard the news, describing Al Swealmeen as a "lovely fella" who "you would say he wouldn't harm a fly".

The 32-year-old pizza chef is said to have come over to the UK in 2014, with Christian volunteers Malcolm and Elizabeth Hitchcott having taken him in to live in their home in 2017 for eight months.

Mr Hitchcott said Al Swealmeen first contacted the couple after his asylum appeal was dismissed and was "desperate" for somewhere to stay.

He said: "He arrived here on April 1, 2017. He was with us then for eight months, and during that time we saw him really blossoming in regards to his Christian faith.

'The Home Office has lost the plot.'

"He really had a passion about Jesus that I wish many Christians had, and he was ready to learn.

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"He was keen on reading his Bible and every night we used to pray - my wife and him, and if there was anybody else in the house - we prayed for half an hour or so and studied the scriptures. We had a great time together."

Mr Hitchcott also told BBC Radio Merseyside: "He was absolutely genuine, as far as I could tell. When you live with somebody in a small terraced house... you learn an awful lot about people and how their habits are, how they relate to one another, the things they think about, it's a good assessing ground.

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"I was in no doubt by the time that he left us at the end of that eight months that he was a Christian."

Describing the moment he found out what had happened, he added: "I just couldn't believe it. I was absolutely stunned.

"Here was a chap who was very calm, measured, very deep thinking, but a lovely man with it.

"I only saw him lose his temper once, which is when he thought I was tampering with his mail, but he apologised for that fairly soon afterwards.

"He was a lovely fella. You would say he wouldn't harm a fly, but he is the sort of chap who considers things deeply first... he was a pleasure to be with."

Damian Hinds on the terror threat level being raised to severe

Mr Hitchcott added that he hadn't spoken to Al Swealmeen in four years and there may have been "changes in his personality and his beliefs" during that time.

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According to the BBC, Al Swealmeen attempted to lodge an appeal with the Upper Tribunal of the Immigration and Asylum Chamber after he lost his asylum claim and an appeal against the decision in a lower court.

But this attempted appeal was refused without it ever going to a full hearing, the broadcaster reported.

Searches have been carried out at an address in Rutland Avenue, where detectives said Al Swealmeen was picked up by the taxi, and at a second property in Sutcliffe Street, where officers believe he previously lived.

Security minister Damian Hinds told LBC this morning he could not speculate on the background of Al Swealmeen.

But when asked by Nick Ferrari whether he had acted alone, Mr Hinds said: "We use this term lone wolf sometimes and it can paint a picture of somebody which isn't necessarily helpful, but it is true that there has been this shift over time from... directed attacks, sometimes quite complex, part of a wider organisation and multi-national in nature, and move from that to much smaller groups or individuals, self-radicalised and self-initiated in their plot."

Ex-Head of Met Special Operations on Liverpool bombing

Four men who were arrested in connection with the Remembrance Day explosion have now been released from police custody.

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The UK's terror threat level has been raised from 'substantial' to 'severe' following the explosion which happened just before 11am on Sunday - moments before the two-minute silence for Remembrance Day was held.

The change was announced by Home Secretary Priti Patel due to it being the second terror attack within the space of a month, following the tragic killing of MP Sir David Amess in Essex.

Mr Hinds told LBC this morning: "We don't want people to be alarmed, it's not about changing your daily life, but it means having heightened alert."

He added: "You shouldn’t be surprised if in busy places there's an increase in visible uniform presence.

"[The alert level has] been high for a very long time, there has been a constant threat, a constant presence of people plotting and planning and 31 late-stage plots have been disrupted over the last few years."

Police continued to appeal for any information about the incident or the suspected attacker.