The vice chancellor of Cambridge University has defended the prisoner education programme at whose conference two victims of Friday’s terror attack were killed.
Former students Saskia Jones, 23, and Jack Merritt, 25, were fatally stabbed by 28-year-old convicted terrorist Usman Khan during a prisoner rehabilitation event they were both supporting.
The attack unfolded at a five-year celebratory conference for Learning Together, a scheme run by Cambridge University’s Institute of Criminology to allow prisoners and criminology academics to meet.
Speaking on Radio 4’s Today this morning, Professor Stephen Toope, the vice chancellor of Cambridge, declined to say whether the programme would continue following the atrocity.
He said both academics who set up the scheme, Cambridge professors Ruth Armstrong and Amy Ludlow, were at the event in London’s Fishmonger’s Hall when Khan started his knife attack.
Professor Stephen Toope (left) has defended the work of the programme which was working with London Bridge terrorist Usman Khan. Khan (right) was attending a celebratory session of the programme when he started his attack and killed co-coordinator Jack Merritt and volunteer Saskia Jones
The photograph posted online during the Cambridge University prisoner rehabilitation group at Fishmongers’ Hall at which Khan unleashed the attack
He insisted the scheme had been held up as an example of ‘best practice’ by a 2016 review of prison education.
Prof Toope said: ‘We’re really not thinking about the future but I will say this is a programme that’s been in existence for five years. It’s done extremely good work.
‘This is a dreadful, horrible and tragic situation but we must put it in a context of five years extraordinary work.’
Prof Toope insisted that risk assessments had been carried out by the university, the Ministry of Justice and the Probation Service ahead of Friday’s event and other events held by the programme.
Last year, the scheme awarded four £5,000 bursaries to allow previous and current prisoners to study for an undergraduate certificate in higher education.
Learning Together was set up in 2014 by University of Cambridge academics Ruth Armstrong (right) and Amy Ludlow (left) from the Faculty of Law and Institute of Criminology
Former University of Cambridge students Saskia Jones, 23, (left) and Mr Merritt, 25, (right) were fatally stabbed during a prisoner rehabilitation event on Friday
The schemes proponents said they believe there is ‘untapped academic talent inside the criminal justice system’. It was previously praised by former Justice Secretary Michael Gove, who said he wanted students to hear from prisoners.
Learning Together was set up in 2014 after it received a grant from Cambridge University’s Teaching and Learning Innovation Fund (TLIF).
Giving the grant, the fund said the pilot, allowed ‘students and offenders (to) jointly study issues around offending and reoffending, and the nature of crime and punishment.’
The scheme has run eight-week programmes in HMP Grendon, where students and prisoners attended sessions led by Cambridge academics looking at issues such as ‘experience of imprisonment’ and life after prison.
The scheme has since received funding by the British Academy, which is in turn receives taxpayers’ money from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
Khan, pictured using a laptop, was signed up to the Cambridge University-run programme Learning Together
In one fundraising campaign, members of the programme did a 10 mile run to ensure Khan could have access to a computer
Terrorist Khan joined Learning Together in prison and, such was his apparent turnaround, the prestigious university invited him to apply for a place as an undergraduate student.
Khan’s apparent rehabilitation was used as a case study to promote its work.
Alongside a picture of the terrorist, it said: ‘He gave a speech via video at our fundraising dinner at the Institute of Continuing Education in Cambridge. We have equipped Usman with a [laptop] so that he can continue his studies and his writing, which he started in Whitemoor (prison).’
Earlier this year, Khan attended a Whitehall event under police escort. He appeared eager and willing to engage with the Government’s Prevent and Desistance and Disengagement programmes, intended to de-radicalise extremists.
Such was his apparent transformation, the fanatic was invited to attend the Cambridge University criminal justice seminar near London Bridge on Friday.
He was given special dispensation to travel to London that day because the terms of Khan’s early release from jail meant he was not allowed to travel beyond a certain distance from his home in Stafford.
This time he was without an escort – allowing him to fatally stab two people and wound three others before being shot dead by police at the age of 28 as he lay on the bridge wearing a fake suicide vest.