London Bridge attack 'was a point-scoring opportunity' for Johnson, says victim's father

10 December 2019, 20:28

Jack Merritt's father David has criticised Boris Johnson
Jack Merritt's father David has criticised Boris Johnson. Picture: PA

By Megan White

Boris Johnson “saw an opportunity to score some points in the election” in the aftermath of the London Bridge terror attack, the father of one of the victims has said in a highly emotional interview.

Jack Merritt, 25, died alongside Saskia Jones, 23, in the attack by Usman Khan during a prisoner rehabilitation event at Fishmongers' Hall in central London last month.

Three others were injured during the attack on November 29.

David Merritt, Jack’s father said there had been no attempts made to contact the family from either the Prime Minister or Downing Street and said the family had turned down a meeting with the Home Secretary.

Following the attack, Mr Johnson spoke of his anger and claimed that scrapping early release from prison would have stopped convicted terrorist Khan killing two people.

The Prime Minister claimed Khan, who was freed halfway through a 16-year jail sentence, was on the streets because of laws introduced by a "leftie government" and has committed to changing sentencing law.

In a new interview with Sky News, Mr Merritt has criticised the Prime Minister for “immediately saying it was Labour’s fault” and said that prompted him to speak out.

Mr Merritt said: "What was required was just a dignified approach whereby the politicians would express their regrets, express their condolences to the people affected, and would then get on with campaigning in the election. It wasn't an election issue.

"Where most of us were watching this and seeing a tragedy unfolding in front of our eyes. Instead of seeing a tragedy Boris Johnson saw an opportunity and he went on the offensive.

"He saw an opportunity to score some points in the election - he immediately said 'oh this is Labour's fault, they allowed this to happen, they had this early release policy' and so on.

"At that point... well I had to say something."

Mr Merritt was asked how he felt about his son's picture being used alongside headlines about changing sentencing and comments from the Prime Minister.

He replied: "Pretty much as you would expect. It just reinforced my views and my feelings about the way in which this situation was being exploited.

"It just struck me as being crass and insensitive and, as we've already said, Jack would have been extremely upset at the way in which things were developing."

It was put to Mr Merritt that some people may say that he himself has politicised his son's death due to not liking Boris Johnson.

He replied: "I would say that if anybody has a right to say something about this situation then it's me and his family.

"We have lost Jack. Jack can't speak for himself anymore. Had there been no comment in the way that it was made, then I wouldn't have said anything.

Jack Merritt's mother Anne (far left), girlfriend Leanne O'Brien (centre left) and father David (centre right) during a vigil
Jack Merritt's mother Anne (far left), girlfriend Leanne O'Brien (centre left) and father David (centre right) during a vigil. Picture: PA

"I would have just carried on grieving and helping to support my family.

"I think the way that it happened and the fact that it was used in such a political way, and I could see the good work that Jack did and that his colleagues did starting to perhaps unravel, it was important that somebody said something.

"And that just happened to be me. And obviously my son's been killed, people are going to listen to me."

During the interview, Mr Merritt tearfully described how the day of the attack unfolded, and said he was unaware that his son was near London Bridge.

He said he heard about the terror incident and “didn’t think much of it, apart from ‘oh no, there’s been another attack, that’s terrible.’”

But he continued: “When I got home my wife came out and she was just beside herself saying ‘we’ve got to go to London’.”

He said when he asked why, Jack’s mother told him “Jack had been involved in this incident at London Bridge,” and that she had been contacted by their son’s girlfriend Leanne.

Mr Merritt described of the family’s agonising journey from Cambridge to the Royal London Hospital, where they waited until 10.45pm before their son’s death was confirmed.

He said: “When we got back to Cambridge, we had to meet our son who had been working, he’d been having a drink with his friends in the pub in Cambridge and we had to get him out the pub and tell him.

“He didn’t know, we didn’t want to tell him over the phone, we didn’t want anyone else to tell him, so we went and got him and we had to tell him that his brother had died, which was probably the hardest thing I’ve had to do so far.”

Mr Merritt said his son knew Khan, adding: "It makes it more unbelievable because, again, I can't... imagine someone who had been befriended and helped by someone like Jack could then in a fairly calculating way kill them."

A Conservative spokesman said: "The PM has expressed his deepest condolences to Mr Merritt for his tragic loss - an experience no family should have to go through.

"The PM's view remains it is 'extraordinary and wrong' that Khan had been released halfway through his prison sentence and has long argued that sentencing should be tougher for violent and extremist offenders."

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn welcomed the warning from Mr Merritt and called for no "knee-jerk reaction" to the tragedy.

He said: "The death of Jack is obviously terrible and David Merritt's comments were very heartfelt.

"His son was somebody who absolutely believed in rehabilitation of prisoners and eventually was sadly killed by one that clearly had not been rehabilitated.

"The points that David Merritt was making was we have a problem in the Prison Service, the lack of probation service and all the issues that go with it, and he was concerned about knee-jerk reactions by politicians.

"Nobody ever wants this kind of disaster ever to happen again, let's deal with it in an intelligent way, not in a knee-jerk reaction."