04:03, February 04 274 0 theguardian.com

2020-02-04 04:03:04
Man who fought London Bridge attacker decries longer jail terms

Longer prison sentences are no deterrent and only delay rehabilitation, a former prisoner who tackled the London Bridge knifeman has said.

John Crilly, who seized a lecturn, chair and fire extinguisher to subdue Usman Khan, has criticised Boris Johnson’s pledge to increase jail terms. He said excessively punitive policies made it harder to release inmates and “add to the burden on society”. His comments were made before the latest jihadist attack, in Streatham, south London, on Sunday.

Khan killed two prison reformers, Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones, at a Learning Together conference on rehabilitation in Fishmonger’s Hall in the City of London on 29 November last year.

Crilly, 48, from Manchester, has been on his own odyssey through the criminal justice system: expelled from school at 15, he became a drug dealer, burglar, supposed murderer, victim of wrongful conviction and – supported by Merritt – a freed law graduate.

Of the few who defied Khan, two – Crilly and Steve Gallant – had been jailed on joint-enterprise charges. That high proportion, Crilly believes, demonstrates how the law is being repeatedly misapplied.

Brought up on a Manchester housing estate, Crilly had a tough start in life. He laboured on building sites, his mother was killed in a traffic accident when he was 17 and on the same day his partner left, denying him access to his son.

“After that I became a drug addict,” he said. “I used to inject whizz [amphetamines] and steal cars. I gave up working. I hated everyone, I hated everything, I hated myself. I felt guilty I couldn’t save my Mum.”

He was sent to Risley prison where he took heroin. On release he began dealing in the Ancoats district of Manchester and worked with another ex-convict, David Flynn.

He joined Flynn and another man on a burglary in early 2005. They knocked, thought no one was in and forced the door. Augustine Maduemezia, 71, was at home but had tinnitus and had not heard them.

“I instantly wanted to get out of there,” Crilly said. “You could tell [Maduemezia] had nothing. I tried to persuade Flynn to leave. The guy stood up and Flynn punched him. I picked him up and set him on the couch. It just looked like he had a bloody lip.”

Madezumia, however, died from the single blow. Crilly and Flynn were arrested, charged with murder and convicted. Crilly appealed unsuccessfully, arguing he had no intention of inflicting violence.

In 2016 the supreme court ruled that judges had been misinterpreting the joint enterprise “foresight” rule for 30 years. Crilly appealed again. His murder conviction was eventually quashed.

He is the only joint enterprise appellant to have succeeded in a legal challenge since 2016. He was given 18 years for manslaughter instead – an unusually long sentence. “People said I would get out quicker if I pleaded guilty,” he said.

In prison, Crilly studied for a Open University degree and was supported by Jengba (Joint Enterprise Not Guilty By Association). When he graduated, Merritt, whom he had got to know, drove up to Manchester for the ceremony.

After release, Crilly moved to Cambridge. He was involved in Learning Together’s conferences, spoke to probation officers and regularly visited Merritt at the university’s Institute of Criminology.

He agreed to participate in the Fishmonger’s Hall conference, travelling down with Learning Together volunteers. The day started badly: Crilly’s bag burst, the ticket machine did not work and his coffee flask leaked. In London, they met another conference participant, Usman Khan, outside a tube station.

“‘Usman, John; John, Usman’,” he was introduced. “So I shook hands with him. He seemed in the same mood I was in, not very talkative. He was cocooned in a jacket, zipped up and looked warm. I just assumed he was a bit introvert.”

They reached Fishmonger’s Hall together. When Usman launched his attack, Crilly was above a staircase talking to a former inmate and a judge on the Parole Board.

“We started hearing screaming,” Crilly remembers. “At first we weren’t sure if it was jovial or in horror. It got louder and it was clear it was arguing.”

He walked down. “Saskia was lying on the stairs. She was bleeding and in a bad way.” The other former prisoner helped her. Khan was below with a knife in each hand. “I could see another girl lying in a pool of blood behind him in the reception hall.”

A woman from Learning Together “was walking towards him in a trance. Her best friend was in the pool of blood. I think she thought she could reason with him … She was five metres away by the time I got to her.”

Crilly pulled her aside. “[Khan’s] attention was drawn to me. We started a screaming match. I was saying: ‘What are you fucking doing?’ I was trying to talk him down.”

Khan exposed his fake suicide belt. “He was trying to persuade me it was real. I said, ‘Blow it up’. I picked up a lecturn and went for him. A couple of times he lunged at me and I stepped back. I tried to hit him. In the end I threw it and hit him.”

But Khan stepped back and stabbed the woman lying behind him. “It was horrible. I picked up a heavy chair and hit him, sending him flying off to the side.”

At that point Steve Gallant arrived armed with a narwhal tusk provided by Darryn Frost, a civil servant. “I ran off down the corridor [looking for a weapon]. There was nothing except pictures. The only thing was a fire extinguisher.”

He realised he could spray Khan and soak the suicide belt. “I blew it into his eyes. He made another lunge for me [and ran out on to London Bridge].” Crilly, Frost and Gallen pursued.

“We were right behind him. He turned. We were all in the right place. The spray blinded him, Darryn hit him with a tusk and we dropped him … As soon as he hit the floor we pounced.

“I took one of the knives and started whacking him on the temple with the handle. We were trying to keep his hands away from his body. He was struggling and, I think, saying, ‘Allahu Akbar’.”

The police appeared quickly. “They were screaming to get off … and Tasered him. I was shouting, ‘Shoot him’ and telling [officers] he had a suicide vest. Then they shot him.”

Crilly is now “washing pots” in a Cambridge college and living in a cramped hostel room. He has received no official letter of thanks.

There is an irony that those convicted of joint enterprise should have worked together so effectively to bring down Khan.

“I wake up in the night thinking about it,” he said. “I want people to realise the justice system is failing to respond to [the problems of] joint enterprise. I suppose it shows the good people are not so good, and the bad people are not so bad.”

Of Khan, he remarked: “He was a lost, brainwashed idiot. I don’t know his story but it didn’t justify anything.”

He described the prime minister’s promise to extend prison sentences as “nonsensical”.

“Longer sentences are not a deterrent. It just makes people who get to the end … feel very bitter, angry and worthless. The longer they are in, the harder it is when they get released. It’s putting a burden on society … You need to give people a reason to want to change.”