A graduate who was stabbed by the Fishmonger’s Hall terror attacker at a prisoner rehabilitation event told the inquest today how she pleaded ‘No Usman, please’ then ‘played dead’ after he thought he had ‘finished’ her.
Stephanie Szczotko, 26, was one of three people seriously injured when she was knifed in the arm by Usman Khan during a rampage in the City near London Bridge that left two others dead on November 29, 2019.
Cambridge University graduates Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23, were killed by Khan – who was secretly armed with three knives and a fake suicide vest – before he was chased onto London Bridge by other attendees.
Three men – two reformed offenders and a civil servant – used a narwhal tusk and a fire extinguisher to tackle the killer to the ground. Police shot him dead as he lay ‘writhing around’ on the pavement and refused to stop moving.
Ms Szczotko worked for Learning Together with its course coordinator, Mr Merritt. She told jurors today of how she first realised an attack had been launched when she saw her colleague hunched over and covered in blood.
Still processing what had happened, Ms Szczotko turned round to see Khan, 28, charging towards her with a look of ‘intent,’ jurors heard. She told the inquest she knew Khan before the rampage and had met with him before.
However, she could not remember specific details. On seeing Khan approach her, Ms Szczotko called out: ‘No, Usman, please’ but he ignored her, the inquest heard. When it became clear he was ‘intent’ on attacking her, Ms Szczotko turned around and ‘hunched’ in a self-defensive pose, jurors were told.
Usman Khan (left) stands across the hall from Jack Merritt (right) on November 29, 2019 before Khan carried out the attack
Usman Khan and Saskia Jones sat at a table at a prisoner rehabilitation event at Fishmongers’ Hall on November 29, 2018
Usman Khan was photographed sitting one seat away from Saskia Jones in the banqueting hall at Fishmongers’ Hall in 2019
Usman Khan stands (circled, left) at a drinks reception before the prisoner rehabilitation event at Fishmongers’ Hall in 2019
Jack Merritt (circled) in the main event room at the prisoner rehabilitation event near London Bridge on November 29, 2019
Usman Khan (1) and Saskia Jones (2) sit at a table together at the prisoner rehabilitation event near London Bridge in 2019
Cambridge University graduates Jack Merritt (left), 25, and Saskia Jones (right), 23, were killed by convicted terrorist Khan
Bravely recalling the atrocity today, softly spoken Ms Szczotko said: ‘The first thing I noticed was Jack coming from the area in the opposite corner and we didn’t necessarily know what was going on because he was shouting that he’d been stabbed and it takes it a little while to register what he’s saying.
‘He was holding his stomach and he’d obviously been injured and there was a lot of blood everywhere. So I was focusing on him for a little while and it took a while to register what had actually happened.
Usman Khan, 28, who was armed with two knives and wore a fake suicide vest, was tackled by members of the public
‘He was wearing a white shirt so the red blood was quite obvious and he was hunched and in a lot of pain. He was walking towards the exit.’
Ms Szczotko told jurors Khan stabbed her multiple times which ‘felt like punches’ before she collapsed to the ground.
‘I looked round to my left and then I saw Usman coming towards me with knives in his hands,’ she said. ‘They seemed quite big, kitchen knives.
‘I don’t remember whether he was running or not but he seemed to be moving fast, purposefully. He seemed quite intent. I obviously said… I knew what it was, so I said ‘no, Usman please.’
‘When it was obvious he wasn’t going to stop I turned to my left and just sort of hunched to try and protect myself. [It] felt more sort of like punches I guess, sort of just a lot of repeated punches.’
After Khan stabbed her in the neck in what he seemed to think were the ‘final’ blows, she lay on the floor as still as she could to stop him returning to her, the victim said.
Jonathan Hough QC, counsel to the inquest, asked her: ‘Did you become aware that that attack had come to an end?’
‘Yes. It’s a little bit fuzzy because I remember his final stabs were in my neck and it felt like he thought they were the final ones. As in, intended to finish me, I guess,’ Ms Szczotko said.
Bystanders and police surrounding Usman Khan at the scene of the terror attack on London Bridge on November 29, 2019
Jack Merritt is seen on CCTV arriving at the prisoner rehabilitation event at Fishmongers’ Hall on November 29, 2019
A Metropolitan Police photograph of an improvised explosive device which was shown during the inquest yesterday
Saskia Jones is seen on CCTV arriving at the prisoner rehabilitation event at Fishmongers’ Hall on November 29, 2019
Steve Gallant (left), who confronted Khan on London Bridge, and Darryn Frost (right), the 38-year-old civil servant working at the Ministry of Justice who fought off Khan with a narwhal tusk
‘Were you conscious and able to understand your surroundings?’ Mr Hough asked.
She replied: ‘I was on the floor and closed my eyes but I could still hear. I sort of decided to play dead so he wouldn’t come back again and realise I wasn’t dead straight away sort of tried to slow down my breathing, blood flow as much as possible.’
How the Fishmongers’ Hall attack unfolded
Convicted terrorist Usman Khan killed two talented young people and injured three more in around five minutes during a knife attack at Fishmongers’ Hall. An inquest into the deaths of Saskia Jones and Jack Merritt has heard a detailed account of how events unfolded:
- March 10 1991: Usman Khan is born in Stoke-on-Trent.
- 2010: Aged 19, Khan is convicted of terrorism offences and spends the next eight years in jail. In that time, he becomes involved with Learning Together organisation.
- December 2018: Khan is released from jail on various licence conditions and lives in Stafford.
- March 2019: Khan maintains contact with Learning Together and is involved with filming a video for the organisation.
- June 2019: He attends a Learning Together event at one of his former prisons, HMP Whitemoor.
- November 29, 2019, 7.30am: Khan travels by train from Stafford to Euston Station in London. He is met at the station by a Learning Together staff member and he travels by Tube and foot to Fishmongers’ Hall near London Bridge. On route to London, it is believed Khan straps a fake suicide belt around his waist and covers it with his jacket.
- 11am to noon: The delegates attend a brunch at Fishmongers’ Hall.
- 11.56am: Video footage shows Khan talking ‘animatedly’ with Saskia Jones at a table, even though they had not known each other before.
- 12noon: The main Learning Together sessions get under way with speeches in the Banqueting Hall followed by breakout sessions until 1.30pm.
- 1.37pm: Jack Merritt leaves the building briefly, returning at 1.40pm.
- 1.45pm: A further breakout session is due to begin but Khan goes down to the toilets on the ground floor next to the reception area.
- Around 1.53pm: Mr Merritt goes to the gents toilets.
- Between 1.56-1.57pm: Khan launches his attack in the men’s toilets at Fishmongers’ Hall with two knives strapped into his hands. As he prepares, he leaves a bag containing a third blade in a cubicle and drops a prayer book on the floor. He encounters Mr Merritt in the toilets and stabs him multiple times, causing 12 injuries including a fatal wound to the chest. Khan makes his way to the cloakroom area, where he gestured to a member of staff ‘as if to be quiet’. He stabs Ms Jones once in the neck. She staggers up a few steps before collapsing. Khan goes on to stab Stephanie Szczotko in the arm at the bottom of the stairs before stabbing Isobel Rowbotham in the main reception. Over the next few minutes, Khan is confronted by a number of people who take items from the walls to defend themselves, including a ornamental pike and narwhal tusks. Khan returns to attack Ms Rowbotham again as she lies on the ground. He also injures the Fishmongers’ Hall porter Lukasz Koczocik, who suffers a stab to the arm. Khan forces a member of staff to open the doors by holding a knife to his chest. He tries to chase a member of the public back inside the hall but is unsuccessful.
- 1.58pm: Police receive a call to attend the scene.
- Around 2.01pm: Khan is pursued on to London Bridge by John Crilly, Steven Gallant and Darryn Frost. During a confrontation on the bridge, Mr Crilly sprays a fire extinguisher at him and Mr Frost jabs at him with a narwhal tusk before they all tackled Khan to the ground with other members of the public.
- 2.02pm: Armed City of London Police officers arrive on the bridge and tell members of the public to stand back. Khan is shot and Tasered by police, causing him to writhe on the ground.
- 2.10pm: Khan is shot again due to the alleged ‘threat’ from what police believed was an improvised explosive device strapped to his body.
- 2.12pm Khan no longer shows any signs of life.
- 2.25pm Ms Jones is pronounced dead from a single neck wound.
- 2.33pm: Mr Merritt is pronounced dead. A post-mortem examination later confirms he suffered multiple knife wounds, including some defensive injuries. The fatal wound is to the chest.
- 2.41pm: An explosives officer moves towards Khan with armed officers and concludes the IED is fake.
- 3.07pm: Khan’s life is pronounced extinct.
Khan also attacked Isobel Rowbotham and Lukasz Koczocik, who both survived.
The killer, who was armed with two knives and wore a fake suicide vest, was tackled by members of the public with a decorative pike, narwhal tusk and fire extinguisher, and then shot dead by police on London Bridge.
The inquest has already been shown an image of Khan standing yards away from Mr Merritt only three hours before murdering him, while a second showed him sitting just one seat away from his second victim Miss Jones.
Also today, housekeeping supervisor Ama Otchere told the inquest today that she found Khan when she went to check on crying coming from the men’s toilets, and ‘could see the anger in his eyes’ before he stabbed his second victim while ‘reciting Arabic’.
Ms Otchere said that when she reached the door, Khan pushed it open and held a knife up while putting a finger to his mouth gesturing at her ‘not to scream,’ the inquest at Guildhall in the City of London heard today.
As Ms Otchere backed away on the stairs to the cloakroom, the killer followed her before approaching a white woman, the witness said.
Ms Otchere said she believed Khan was reciting lines from the Koran because he was speaking in Arabic, but she was not certain the origin of the words.
She added: ‘I heard a noise someone is crying in the gents toilets. I thought that maybe somebody was sick, so let me go there and check, so I tried to push the door [to the men’s toilets]… and someone came out.
‘He was wearing a ash padded jacket and he was holding a knife on his right hand side. [The knife] was quite long.’
Jurors heard for the first time that Khan was wearing a ‘mask’ as he carried out the first killing of Mr Merritt.
Jonathan Hough QC, counsel to the inquest, said: ‘You gestured earlier that the other movement he made was holding a finger up to his mouth.’
Ms Otchere said: ‘Yes’.
Mr Hugh then asked: ‘How did you interpret that gesture?’.
‘When he saw me he wielded the knife like this and went like this [with his finger] like telling me not to scream as if someone would come,’ the witness replied.
Asked about Khan’s demeanour, Ms Otchere said: ‘No he wasn’t calm. You can see from his face, you can see the anger in his face.’
‘When I was going with my back he was coming towards me and then he came to the cloakroom,’ she added. ‘He approached a white lady.’
‘And he stabbed an area which you identified as her shoulder?’ Mr Hough asked.
‘Yes,’ Ms Otchere said. ‘He was reciting the Quran.’
‘So he was reciting something. Do you know it was the Koran?’ the QC asked.
‘It’s Arabic,’ Ms Otchere replied.
‘Do you recognise it as passages from the Koran?’ Mr Hough said.
‘No,’ Ms Otchere said.
‘But you think it’s the Koran?’ Mr Hough asked.
‘Yes, it’s [the] Koran,’ Ms Otchere replied.
Earlier today, a retired judge who witnessed the terror attack told the inquest how he heard ‘angry and confused’ male shouts followed by ‘female screams’ during the rampage.
John Samuels, now president of the charity Prisoner’s Education Trust, described how during a comfort break he saw Ms Jones collapsed on the stairs next to a man wielding a weapon.
Upon hearing screams when he stepped out onto a balcony off the main hall, he looked down to see Ms Jones ‘chalk white,’ the inquest heard today.
‘I heard shouts and screams coming from downstairs,’ Mr Samuels said. ‘I think the first sound I heard were male shouts followed by female screams.’
He described the male shouts as ‘angry and confused’, adding: ‘A female who was lying collapsed on that first flight of stairs with her head on the upper staircase and her legs below.’
Asked about her apparent condition, Mr Samuels said: ‘I noted particularly that her face was chalk white, she appeared unconscious to me or perhaps even dead.
‘The female was obstructed by a male who was standing behind her who was carrying an object as it were across his chest, above his head. I couldn’t at that time identify precisely what it was, but it appeared to be used as some kind of weapon.
Usman Khan is pictured arriving at the prisoner rehabilitation event at Fishmongers’ Hall on November 29, 2019
A Metropolitan Police photograph of an improvised explosive device used during the terror attack at Fishmonger’s Hall
Mr Frost jabbed at Khan with a narwhal tusk (pictured) before tackling Khan to the ground with other members of the public
Metropolitan Police photographs of a knife and tape which were shown in court yesterday as the inquest began
A decorative pike, which was used by members of the public as they tackled terrorist Khan during the attack in 2019
‘Initially I thought it might have been one of the ceremonial blades that lined the staircase at Fishmonger’s Hall.’
‘We know a variety of weapons were used to ward off Usman Khan including a lectern, could it be one of those?’ Jonathan Hough QC, counsel to the inquest, asked.
‘It could well have been a lectern,’ Mr Samuels replied.
He then heard Dr Amy Ludlow, who oversaw the event, making a phone call amid the chaos shortly before 2pm.
‘The gist of what she was shouting was police, ambulance, now,’ the retired judge said.
There were frantic shouts of ‘there’s a bomb’ before guests were told to evacuate the building immediately, the inquest heard.
David Robertson, who hosted the event on behalf of Fishmonger’s Hall, led guests down a service staircase and out of the building onto Swan Street.
Once outside, Mr Samuels heard ‘a succession’ of gunshots coming from London Bridge, the inquest heard. The group took shelter in a nearby solicitors’ office for 40 minutes while police attended the scene, jurors heard.
Jury inquests into the deaths of Mr Merritt and Ms Jones are taking place before coroner Mark Lucraft QC at Guildhall. They are due to go on for six weeks before a separate inquest into Khan’s death.