Reading terror attack: Deaths of three men ‘probably avoidable’ after failings

The Reading terror attacks in which three men were murdered in a park were “probably avoidable” and contributed to by the failings of multiple agencies, a coroner has said at the conclusion of inquest proceedings.

Libyan refugee Khairi Saadallah shouted “Allahu akhbar” as he fatally stabbed friends James Furlong, 36, Dr David Wails, 49, and Joseph Ritchie-Bennett, 39, on June 20 2020 in the town’s Forbury Gardens.

The “failings of the state exposed by this inquest sicken and disgust me”, Said Dr David Wails’s brother Andrew Wails following the ruling.

Gary Furlong, the father of James Furlong, said the three victims had been failed by “virtually all state agencies” who dealt with their attacker.

“Our boys did not stand a chance,” he continued.

Three other people – Stephen Young, Patrick Edwards and Nishit Nisudan – were also injured before Saadallah threw away the 8in (20cm) knife and ran off, being chased by an off-duty police officer.

Undated family handout photos issued by Thames Valley Police of (left to right) Joe Ritchie-Bennett, James Furlong and David Wails.
Joe Ritchie-Bennett, James Furlong and David Wails (Family Handout/PA)

Judge Coroner Sir Adrian Fulford said the deaths “probably would have been avoidable” if the mental health service had given “greater priority to stabilising KS and securing access to long-term psychological therapy”.

He added that if his “extremist risk had been better analysed”, Saadallah would probably then have been recalled to custody the day before the attacks, meaning they would never have happened.

Judge Coroner Fulford said the deaths of the three men were “contributed to by the failings of multiple agencies”.

During the conclusion, Judge Coroner Fulford listed Saadallah’s convictions which he said indicate a “deterioration in his behaviour from late 2018” as he was carrying offensive weapons in public and had “demonstrated a propensity to attack others”.

Staff members in probation, immigration, police and MI5 have all given evidence to the inquest over the course of a number of weeks earlier this year – with one probation witness breaking down in court as she recalled unknowingly “managing an unconvicted murderer”.

A counsellor said he “harassed” mental health services to examine the terror attacker in the year before the killings, with his mental state forming a large part of proceedings.

File photo dated 29/06/20 of a court artist sketch by Elizabeth Cook of Khairi Saadallah appearing via video-link at Westminster Magistrates’ Court.
Court artist sketch of Khairi Saadallah appearing via video-link at Westminster Magistrates’ Court (Elizabeth Cook/PA)

Thames Valley Police failed to find a knife at Saadallah’s home during a welfare check the day before he carried out the attacks, because officers were not told he was threatening to harm himself and others, the hearing was told.

But the judge coroner said he accepts that based on the information available to the officers before the visit, they had “no reasonable ground to arrest KS or consider detaining him”.

The inquest at the Old Bailey heard the terrorist was “in limbo” for a number of years as his asylum application in the UK was refused, and he was also ineligible for deportation to Libya because of the country’s civil war.

Saadallah arrived lawfully in the UK in April 2012 on a visitor’s visa, which expired in September of the same year.

Undated family handout photo of Joe Ritchie-Bennett, one of the three victims of the Reading terror attack.
Joe Ritchie-Bennett was one of the three victims of the Reading terror attack (Family Handout/PA)

Before his release from HMP Bullingdon, Saadallah said he would “stab someone” during an “outburst”, which did not form part of an intelligence report until after the terror attack, the judge coroner said.

Saadallah was referred to Prevent four times, referrals which were all closed, because he was sent to prison and was no longer in the community and “because of a widely accepted assessment that any risk he posed was based on his mental health difficulties, as opposed to an adherence to an extremist ideology”, the court was told.

The failure by Prevent to identify and act on the risk that Saadallah posed is a “matter that has caused me some real concern”, the judge coroner added.

He said he has been told that “significant lessons have been learned”.

A Government spokesperson said: “We will stop at nothing to keep the public safe from terrorism which is why we continue to invest heavily in counter-terrorism policing, created a joint intelligence unit so that information can be better shared across law enforcement and toughened sentences and supervision for terror offenders.

“While it is right that we take time to carefully consider the inquests’ findings, we are clear that if there are any further lessons to be learned, we will take action.”

Undated family handout photo of David Wails, one of the three victims of the Reading terror attack.
David Wails was one of the three victims of the Reading terror attack (Family Handout/PA)

Referring to the deaths in the Fishmongers’ Hall terrorist attack, Mr Harborne drew attention to Saadallah who was “now extremely vulnerable to being radicalised”.

He added: “I am fearful if he does not now get the right support for his trauma whilst in prison, there could disastrous consequences on his release.”

Saadallah was declared a “subject of interest” by MI5 in 2019, but months later he became a “closed subject of interest”.

Undated family handout photo of James Furlong.
James Furlong was one of the three victims of the Reading terror attack (Family Handout/PA)

But he added information provided to MI5 by Counter Terrorism Policing South East was “inadequate”.

Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, which was identified by the coroner as having made a number of failures in the treatment of Saadallah, said it would review the findings and make any improvements “as quickly as possible”.

A statement said: “We would like to extend our sincere condolences to all of the families and friends of the victims of the tragic Forbury Gardens incident.

“Since then, there has been significant learning with changes focused on much better communication and engagement with our partners and the way in which multi-agency working is delivered.

“We will now review the coroner’s findings and work alongside all agencies involved, to ensure any further learning and improvements can be agreed and embedded as quickly as possible.”

Judge Coroner Fulford will be issuing a Prevention of Future Deaths report to the Secretary of State for the Home Department, the Secretary of State for Justice, chief constable of Thames Valley Police, Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust and Midlands Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust.

In January 2021, the killer was handed a whole-life sentence at the Old Bailey after pleading guilty to three murders and three attempted murders.

Judge Coroner Fulford recorded a conclusion of unlawful killing for the deaths.

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