January 27, 2021

Authorities had four warnings about Reading attackers mental health – The Guardian

Reading park attack

Mon 11 Jan 2021 18.31 GMT

Repeated warnings were given that Khairi Saadallah, who murdered three men in a Reading park last summer, could carry out a “London Bridge-type scenario” shortly before the killings took place, the Guardian has learned.

Documents reveal that Nick Harborne, chief executive of the Reading Refugee Support Group (RRSG), who had had dealings with Saadallah since 2016, made four specific warnings to health and probation professionals between 4 December 2019 and 12 June 2020 that Saadallah could commit a violent crime if he did not receive appropriate support.

On Monday, Saadallah was sentenced to spend his whole life in jail for the attacks on 20 June 2020. James Furlong, 36, a history teacher, David Wails, 49, a scientist, and an American pharmaceutical worker Joseph Ritchie-Bennett, 39, died after being stabbed by Saadallah as they sat on the grass in Forbury Gardens that evening. Sentencing him at the Old Bailey to a whole-life order, Mr Justice Sweeney said the attack had been driven by terrorism.

Harborne said he had not been concerned that Saadallah would commit an ideologically driven terrorist attack, but that he would commit a violent attack because of his serious mental health problems.

Harborne believes that an independent inquiry ​into the circumstances leading to the murders may be needed to ensure that lessons are learned and that other tragedies of this nature are avoided in future.

“We believe that the crimes in Forbury Gardens could have been prevented,” he said. “We all need to collectively examine this to ensure that lessons are learned. RRSG tried to raise his case with a number of agencies including Prevent, the NHS clinical commissioning group, and the prison and probation services.”

RRSG wrote to Prevent, the probation service, the Berkshire West Clinical Commissioning Group, Berkshire Healthcare Trust and Reading mental health social care team communicating concerns that there could be a “London Bridge-type scenario” if Saadallah didn’t get immediate and appropriate support. The last time he made contact with statutory agencies about Saadallah’s case was when he emailed the probation service the day after he was released from prison, two weeks before the Reading murders.

The email sent on 12 June 2020, seen by the Guardian, states: “I am seriously concerned we could have an incident not dissimilar to the London bridge attack in November last year if he becomes unwell.”

He had previously written to prison officials on 4 February 2020: “My overall concern is that something similar to the recent events on London Bridge may occur on his release.”

Speaking after the sentencing, Furlong’s father, Gary Furlong, questioned why Saadallah had been free to carry out the killings after obtaining “a litany of criminal convictions, including assaults on the public, police and emergency services, along with carrying a bladed weapon”.

“Whilst in prison it was decided by the secretary of state on 4 June, 4 2020, just two weeks prior to the attack, that his deportation was in the public interest, but for legal reasons it could not happen.

“Despite his criminal history and threats made before the attack, he was then released back into society immediately and was freely able to commit this horrendous act on the public.”

Saadallah arrived from Libya to the UK 16 days after his 18th birthday. He told agencies that he had been forcibly conscripted to a militia as a child soldier in his home country and refused the militia chiefs’ demands to torture people. He said he fled Libya after members of his family were killed as punishment for him refusing to carry out those demands. Documents regarding Saadallah’s case seen by the Guardian said he was traumatised by events in Libya and had been diagnosed with complex PTSD, emotionally unstable personality disorder and dissociative personality disorder.

Harborne said he first met Saadallah when he came to the charity’s office to seek information about voluntarily returning to Libya in 2016. He violently kicked his way out of the office after becoming agitated, assaulted members of the public on the street and was arrested after RRSG called the police.

He said: “I witnessed first-hand his capacity for violence and saw how quickly his mental health could deteriorate when under the influence of alcohol. He assaulted members of the public for no reason. We were always concerned there was the potential of him committing some kind of atrocity in the future because of his mental health.”,” said Harborne.

Harborne questioned the terrorist narrative. “I have reservations about any assumptions or assertions that he was motivated by any notions of terrorism. His problems, in our opinion, stem from mental instability,” he said.

“Had we all listened and responded to the concerns that were repeatedly communicated by several different agencies, this tragedy may well have been avoided,” Harborne said.

The Ministry of Justice, the Home Office and Berkshire Healthcare Trust, the NHS trust dealing with Saadallah’s care, have all been approached for comment.