London Bridge attack: Girlfriend of terror victim Jack Merritt comforted at memorial

2 December 2019, 11:27 | Updated: 2 December 2019, 21:15

The girlfriend of one of the London Bridge terror attack victims has been comforted as she sobbed through a memorial in his hometown.

Twin vigils were held in London and in Cambridge this morning to remember Saskia Jones, 23, and 25-year-old Jack Merritt who were fatally stabbed during the attack by convicted terrorist Usman Khan on Friday.

The pair had been involved in a prisoner rehabilitation conference that their killer had also been attending.

Leanne O'Brien, the grieving girlfriend of Mr Merritt, clutched a cuddly toy and wept as she was supported by family members during the remembrance service in Cambridge, where both victims had been students.

In London, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn stood side-by-side as they observed a minute's silence, along with the city's mayor Sadiq Khan and members of the public.

It came as:

  • A heavy police presence remains around London Bridge as investigations continue
  • A book of condolence opens at Guildhall Art Gallery and the public are invited to lay flowers outside nearby Mansion House
  • Supportive messages are displayed on notice boards around London Bridge Underground station, including: "Together we stand. An attack on any one of us is an attack on us all"

At the service, Mr Khan urged people to come together following the killings and said the "best way to defeat this hatred is not by turning on one another but by focusing on the values that bind us".

He said: "We come together this morning as Londoners to remember, to honour and to mourn the innocent lives lost as a result of this horrific terrorist attack on Friday."

The mayor also thanked the public and the emergency services who "ran towards danger, risking their lives to help others".

Mr Johnson afterwards faced questions for claiming he wanted to clamp down on the early release of some criminals.

Mr Merritt's father David had said over the weekend: "We know Jack would not want this terrible, isolated incident to be used as a pretext by the government for introducing even more draconian sentences on prisoners, or for detaining people in prison for longer than necessary."

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The prime minister responded by saying he felt "a huge amount of sympathy" for the two victims' families but insisted: "I've campaigned against early release and short sentences for many years...

"I do think that unfortunately that is the problem we face - we have too many people who are released automatically on to our streets and we need to address that."

Sebastian Lefeuvre, a friend of Ms Jones, told Sky News that knowing the Cambridge University student made him a better person.

"Imagine a dark room and she's the light bulb," he said. "As soon as she smiled, the world changed."

He added: "You can really butter this up as much as you want but you meet Saskia for a moment and she'd leave a lifetime impression."

Meanwhile, Ms Jones' former school, Winchester House, has paid tribute her.

It said in a statement: "We are shocked and saddened by the news of her death as she was an extraordinary young person; an individual who was talented across the realms of sport, music and academia.

"It is rare to witness such selflessness in one so young and we are proud that she was a member of our school. As a community our thoughts and prayers are with her family."

A former classmate of Mr Merritt at Cambridge recalled with great fondness the "tireless advocate for prisoner rehabilitation", and urged people not to forget what he had stood for in life.

Writing in the New York Times, Emma Goldberg said: "The injustice of somebody murdered while organising for criminal justice feels impossibly sharp."

The remembrance services were held as it emerged that one of nine extremists convicted in 2012 alongside Usman Khan for plotting to attack the London Stock Exchange had been arrested in Stoke-on-Trent.

Nazam Hussain, 34, was detained on suspicion of preparation of terrorist acts after a search of his home address, following a review of terrorists released on licence in the wake of the latest atrocity.

Khan, also from Stoke, was on licence and wearing an electronic tag when he launched his deadly assault at a prisoner rehabilitation conference. Three other people were also injured.

The 28-year-old, who was released from prison in December 2018, halfway through a 16-year prison sentence, had been given permission to travel into central London by police and the Probation Service.

Wielding two knives and wearing a fake suicide vest, he was tackled by members of the public, including ex-offenders from the conference, before he was shot dead by police.