Streatham terror attack could have been prevented, inquest rules

20 August 2021, 13:07 | Updated: 20 August 2021, 16:06

By Emma Soteriou

The Streatham terror attack could have been prevented had Sudesh Amman been recalled to prison, jurors at the Royal Courts of Justice inquest into his death have concluded.

It was also ruled that the killing of Amman was lawful, with jurors having been directed by the coroner to return that conclusion.

Police and MI5 officers were so concerned about Amman two days before the attack - which took place on Streatham High Road on 2 February 2020 - that they held an emergency meeting to discuss the prospect of arresting the recently released terrorist.

However, HM Prison and Probation Service decided not to recall him to prison.

It came despite undercover officers spotting him buy four small bottles of Irn-Bru, kitchen foil and parcel tape from Poundland on January 31 - items they rightly feared could be used to make a hoax suicide belt.

Two people were injured in the stabbing rampage, which ended when Amman was shot dead by armed police.

His attack was carried out in broad daylight, taking place over a period of 62 seconds.

Police said the undercover operation that placed him on round-the-clock armed surveillance by nine officers at the time he struck limited the number of casualties.

Read more: Undercover officer describes terrifying moment he shot knife-wielding Streatham terrorist

Amman had previously been jailed for 40 months for preparing and engaging in acts of terrorism.

His case prompted a swift change in the law to prevent terror offenders being automatically released at the half-way point of their jail sentence.

He was described by senior police and MI5 officers as "one of the most dangerous individuals that we have investigated" just two weeks before the homegrown jihadi was released from prison.

Intelligence compiled on the 20-year-old - in both the build-up to his conviction for collecting material useful for terrorism and disseminating terrorist publications, and in the days before his release from Belmarsh prison - painted a picture of a young man bent on radicalisation and committing a crime.

The inquest heard he expressed a desire to kill the Queen, and remarked his wish to have been involved in the 2013 murder of fusilier Lee Rigby outside Woolwich barracks.

Read more: Streatham attacker signalled he wanted to 'kill the Queen' before prison release

He was also seemingly obsessed with his own celebrity, reportedly boasting to cellmates that he was Belmarsh's youngest terror offender.

While in prison, staff heard him openly share his extreme views, which included "a desire to kill the Queen, become a suicide bomber and join Isis", the inquest heard.

He also described himself as "a wild tiger who doesn't obey the law".

Little was known about Amman's path to radicalisation, but he was said to have been traumatised by witnessing the decapitation of human bodies during a family holiday to Sri Lanka five years prior.

His mother, Haleema Khan, recalled how she spoke with her son on the phone less than 30 minutes before the attack, during which he ended their conversation with "Bye bye, I love you mummy".

She said she had no reason to suspect her son - who had a long history of extremism, was prone to bouts of anger, and repeatedly asked if she had said her prayers - would carry out such an attack.

"I didn't think he was going to do these things," she said.

Read more: Streatham terrorist did well in school before developing 'behavioural issues', inquest hears

Searches of Amman's hard drive revealed a folder entitled "Chemistry", including videos and instruction manuals concerning use of weapons.

Another instruction manual was labelled: "How to make a bomb in the kitchen of your mum."

He had also posted al Qaida propaganda on a family WhatsApp group, exposing siblings as young as 11 to graphic material.

He urged his then-girlfriend to kill her parents as well.

Detective Assistant Commissioner Dean Haydon, senior national co-ordinator for counter terrorism policing, thanked the armed officers who shot Amman.

Speaking outside New Scotland Yard, Mr Haydon said: "I want to thank the jury for their careful examination of the evidence in this case, but also for the coroner's positive comments and praise - both towards the investigation team and the armed officers who responded to the incident."

He added: "I also want to pay tribute to the courage shown by the officers in relation to how they pursued the attacker but also stopped anybody else coming to harm.

"This demonstrates the true professionalism shown by them but also their bravery in the face of danger."

The assistant commissioner also praised the officers for being in "the right place at the right time".

"Police had real concerns about this attacker - both in relation to his extremist mindset and also what he may do on release from prison," Mr Haydon said.

"It is for this reason that we employed and he was monitored by a very professional and highly skilled team."

He went on to say: "It is for this reason they were in the right place at the right time to intervene and stop this becoming a murderous attack.

"Lethal force is rare in this country but as you have heard the evidence in this case, that once the attack had started, lethal force was one of the most effective ways of stopping the attack."