Inquest jurors have been shown a chilling video message from Fishmongers’ Hall jihadi Usman Khan in which he praised the educational project whose academics he would later stab in a bloody rampage.
The homegrown terrorist, 28, beamed as he described how Learning Together “was kind of family” to him, in a short clip shown at one of their events in Cambridge, eight months before the Fishmongers’ Hall conference.
Khan had not been given security clearance to travel down from Stafford for the Cambridge event, but agreed to record a short “thank-you” message in which he spoke effusively about the opportunities Learning Together offered him in prison.
Learning Together co-founder Dr Ruth Armstrong, who Khan appeared to name-check in the clip, told City of London’s Guildhall that Khan would not have been invited to the event had intelligence about his behaviour in prison been shared with the programme leadership team.
She appeared to avert her eyes from the screen in front of her as the video was played to inquest jurors during her evidence on Friday afternoon.
In the clip, Khan, wearing a grey patterned jumper, glasses, and with his hair and beard neatly trimmed, smiled and gesticulated enthusiastically from a chair in his home as he looked down the camera to praise Learning Together.
Grinning, he said: “Hi, my name is Usman, and basically I’m gonna explain to you how I got to do Learning Together.
“I was in prison and I did eight years in prison … most of that to be honest with you I did in the segregation unit – I was completely isolated.”
He described how creative writing – a course he would later study with Learning Together while in category A Whitemoor Prison – really helped him, having had “no TV, no social situations” for his time in isolation.
He said: “I started doing creative writing. I could express myself, in a way nobody can stop you.
“This was a passion I had.
“I went for it and I was introduced to a nice lady called Ruth.
“From there, you come across initiatives in prison.
“But what was different about Learning Together was breaking the barriers, accepting people for who they are.”
He added: “There has to be an understanding. Learning Together is working together for the betterment of us all.
“It was also Learning Together – it was kind of family … It is making a difference, and I cannot stress that enough.
“Before I move on, I would like to say to all the team – thank you very much.
“It let out my personality, I am comfortable with who I am.”
Khan then read a short poem he wrote, entitled In The Darkness, which included the line: “A single seed planted in mud becomes a strong tree.”
Jonathan Hough QC, counsel to the inquests, said to Dr Armstrong: “I appreciate how hard that is to watch.”
Dr Armstrong nodded.
The inquests previously heard how intelligence in the prisons system suggested Khan was potentially plotting an attack upon his release from jail in December 2018, and that he was considered “the main inmate in the area for extremist views and others” in summer 2017.
Dr Armstrong wept as she told the inquests that Learning Together were not told of any such intelligence before, during, or after he was enrolled onto their courses.
She said: “We had absolutely no indication of any concerns regarding Usman Khan and if we had of course would have made different decisions.”
She added: “My expectation is a decision would have been made to remove him.
“We have had examples of students being removed from the classroom for security reasons … that is a judgment for security services.”
Dr Armstrong added: “If we had been told of the information and intelligence available, Usman Khan would not have been invited (to Fishmongers’ Hall).
“If we had been told of those risks, of course he would not have been invited.”
Khan armed himself with kitchen knives and a fake suicide belt when he attacked Cambridge graduates and Learning Together delegates Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23, at the programme’s five-year anniversary celebrations on November 29 2019.
The convicted terrorist was then chased onto London Bridge by fellow attendees, including a serving and former offender, before he was fatally shot by police.
The inquests continue.