Cambridge University has scrapped a programme which taught prisoners alongside students after the deadly 2019 Fishmonger’s Hall terrorist attack was carried out at one of its events.
Jack Merritt, 25, who was employed by the Learning Together programme at the time, and Saskia Jones, 23, who was one of its volunteers, were killed by the convicted terrorist Usman Khan at an event to mark the fifth anniversary of the scheme.
An inquest into their deaths was critical of Learning Together’s failure to spot the danger Khan posed and its lax attitude to security.
Now a Cambridge University review of the programme has recommended it should end.
The inquest heard that Learning Together regarded Khan as a “poster boy” for the programme, after he appeared to have become a reformed character after taking part in several of its courses while at Whitemoor high security prison.
Khan even featured in promotional video played at an earlier Learning Together event held months after he was released.
The inquest jury concluded this played a part in the collective failure by the authorities to do nothing to stop Khan attending Fishmonger’s Hall or search his bag, which contained the knives he used to carry out the attack.
The jury said the authorities had a “blind spot to Khan’s unique risks due to his ‘poster boy’ image and lack of psychological assessment post released from prison”.
Last November in a prevention of future deaths report, Judge Mark Lucraft QC, a former chief coroner, set out 22 “matters of concern” several of which were directed at the university and Learning Together.
Lucraft questioned why no formal risk assessment of the Fishmonger Hall event had taken place. And he asked how serving and recently released serious offenders could attend the event without many of those involved knowing.
During the inquest a lawyer for Merritt’s family asked the co-directors of Learning Together, Dr Amy Ludlow and Dr Ruth Armstrong, why they did not rule out working with terrorist offenders on safety grounds.
Ludlow told the inquest that research did not support such exclusions.
In a response to the coroner, published on Monday, Cambridge University said: “There now needs to be a ‘clear stop’ to the delivery of the Learning Together programme in the University, both within and beyond prisoners. The programme is therefore at an end.”
It added that in future the university’s Institute of Criminology will ensure any contact with students and offenders is closely supervised, and will not permit contact with serious offenders beyond research interviews subject to risk assessments.
In its response to the coroner, Learning Together said: “Drs Armstrong and Ludlow take this opportunity to reiterate that their personal and professional reflection, profound grief, and trauma is deep and ongoing following the tragedy of 29 November 2019. As employees of the university, they have taken every possible opportunity to contribute to the University’s process of reflection, consideration and further action.”
John Crilly, an ex-offender who was praised for saving lives at Fishmongers Hall by forcing him out of the building with a fire extinguisher, said scrapping the Learning Together programme was a “real shame”.
Speaking to the Guardian, he said: “It’s the best programme I ever took part in. It opened up my life to what was possible and that there was a world beyond prison that I could be a part of. One bad thing happens and it just ruins everything for everyone.”
Prof Stephen J Toope, vice-chancellor, said: “The Learning Together Programme helped change many lives for the better. But the London Bridge tragedy caused unimaginable grief. As a result, an independent review recommended that the programme be halted.”