The family have decided to speak exclusively of their ordeal to The Mail On Sunday through their younger son Spencer Jones (pictured)
With lunch over, Penny and Ron Jones had settled in the living room when the phone call came.
‘This is the armed police. We are outside your house,’ a man’s voice said. Penny glanced up at the window to see a police officer in full riot gear staring back at her.
‘Stand up from your chair and walk straight out of the door with your hands up,’ said the caller.
The 71-year-old foster mother and her 89-year-old husband were told to leave everything behind, even the handbag containing Penny’s medication.
Terrified, confused and utterly bewildered, they walked out of the house and into a wall of officers who were standing with guns at the ready. Behind them, although the couple did not know at the time, was the bomb squad.
It was only when they were in a police car speeding away that they learned 18-year-old Ahmed Hassan – the polite Iraqi refugee they had lovingly taken into their home 18 months ago – had been arrested on suspicion of planting the Parsons Green bucket bomb.
Now the family have decided to speak exclusively of their ordeal to The Mail On Sunday through their younger son Spencer.
Proud: Spencer Jones, right, sees his parents Penny and Ron Jones (left) picking up MBEs when the pair were honoured by the Queen for fostering hundreds of children
An artist’s impression from inside court of Hassan Ahmed Being at Westminster Magistates’ court. Penny and Ronald’s son, Spencer Jones said: ‘Mum will feel betrayal and probably failure over this’
In an emotional interview, the 45-year-old says his parents’ lives have been turned upside down. ‘He got on with my parents and Mum always spoke highly of him,’ he says. ‘Mum will feel betrayal and probably failure over this.
‘How could you not? She’ll wear a portion of that blame herself, as though it was her own child.’
On Friday, her former foster child appeared at Westminster Magistrates’ Court charged with attempted murder and an explosives offence.
A crude homemade device – packed with shrapnel, screws and knives and left on a packed rush-hour Tube train on September 15 – had been designed to cause slaughter on a grand scale.
Thankfully, it had failed to fully detonate but the explosion still created a fireball that injured 30 people.
In a further shock for Ron and Penny, the court heard the teenager allegedly built the device in their home in Sunbury-on-Thames, Surrey, after buying ingredients online to make the explosive TATP, known as ‘Mother of Satan’.
A still from CCTV footage which appears to show the Parsons Green bomb suspect carrying a Lidl bag on the morning of the attack
Ahmed Hassan, 18, is the first suspect to be charged in connection with the Parsons Green Tube terrorist attack (pictured)
Having fostered nearly 300 children – in which time they have been threatened with knives and stolen from – the couple are no strangers to difficulty.
But the thought that they may have opened their home to someone alleged to be a terrorist bomber has left them feeling devastated, betrayed and, in their own words, ‘shell-shocked’.
Now Spencer, the younger of their two biological sons, reveals that his parents are trying to comprehend how the studious teenager they had treated like a son could end up being accused of attempting mass murder.
Indeed, just months ago they had enjoyed a holiday together in the West Country, hiring a cottage and visiting Monkey World in Dorset and the Eden Project in Cornwall.
Hassan had been a ‘nice, respectful boy’ who had cooked and shopped for the couple. He had just graduated from a college close to their home and had been nominated for a student award.
A keen photographer, he had enjoyed taking pictures of wildlife and was often at London Zoo. They had spent Christmas with him.
‘Mum and Dad’s house is a place of love and tolerance,’ says Spencer, a roadside mechanic and father of four.
‘They’re Christian people but they won’t throw it down your throat. There would have been no issue about his religion. He would have been allowed to have his prayer mat and pray, go to mosque.’
The couple had reported Hassan missing on finding his bedroom empty on the morning after the bombing.
‘Mum raised the flag with the police and the social services contact that this lad had disappeared overnight,’ says Spencer, speaking in his home in Blackpool.
Armed police on Cavendish Road, in Sunbury-on-Thames after raiding the house of foster parents Penny and Ron Jones
The hugely experienced foster parents were not overly concerned by Hassan’s disappearance. Perhaps he was staying with a friend and had forgotten to call. They knew it was not unusual for foster children to run away.
‘The first time they had any inclination there was an issue was when they received the phonecall from the armed police officer standing outside the house,’ says Spencer.
He had been alerted to the news by an ex-girlfriend in Sunbury who sent him on Facebook a picture of his parents’ three-bedroom home surrounded by police. Frantic, he rang his mother who, clearly shaken, was with police. ‘All she said was, ‘This bomber, they think it’s him. I can’t really talk yet.’ ‘
Ron and Penny have not yet been allowed back into their home or to collect any of their possessions. They have been told it could be weeks, or even months, while forensic officers complete their search.
The thought, as it is alleged, that Hassan may have concocted the bomb in their home, in which Penny has lived all her life, is chilling.
Ron and Penny have not yet been allowed back into their home or to collect any of their possessions. Pictured: The bomber suspect carrying a bag through Sunbury on September 11
In the week since the attack, six people have been picked up by police across Britain
‘He had been left alone overnight and during the day when they’ve been out,’ says Spencer. ‘He’s had access to most of the house. The only room he’s never had access to is their bedroom because they’ve got a lock on it.’
It is difficult for Spencer to reconcile the huge efforts of his parents to help others with the trauma they are now going through.
He says: ‘It’s hard to believe that two people who have done so much have to suffer the indignity of having their lives dissected.
‘They’ve taken Mum’s iPad, laptop and home computer. There are strangers going through every aspect of your life, you know, through your knicker drawer. A woman’s most private place.
‘My parents have worked tirelessly for the benefit of other people’s children who are in need.
‘I’ve seen Mum refuse to move when threatened with knives at the front door by parents who’ve come to snatch back their children.
‘I’ve seen her stand in front of a bulldozer when it was about to knock down a building she wanted to be made into a youth centre.
Sunbury residents and media gather near to the police cordon as forensic and anti-terror experts erect a police tent in the Penny and Ron Jones’ garden
Penny and Ronald Jones’ property in Surrey, where police believe the suspect made the bomb while in foster care there
‘She’s a strong woman, the matriarch of the family. But I’ve also seen her, after she’s processed things, cry and be visibly shaken.
‘She’s still processing this. She just keeps telling me she’s shell-shocked. She hasn’t been sleeping.But this won’t break Mum. She’s too strong and practical.’
Allowing himself a brief moment of humour, Spencer says the forensic team will have their ‘work cut out’ dusting round the couple’s ornaments and photographs.
‘The walls are covered with pictures of different children they’ve had,’ he says. ‘They have to decide which ones to rotate.
‘They’ve got a cabinet and shelves full of trinkets that foster children have bought them over the years. They’re silly things like the ‘Greatest Mum’ mug or tiny teddy bears. It’s stuff that reminds them why they do it.’
Penny, a former prison guard, and Ron, a retired warehouseman, started fostering before either Spencer or his brother, Leonard, were born. The couple put themselves forward after a TV appeal.
They have cared for 268 disadvantaged children and in 2010 were awarded MBEs at Buckingham Palace. Penny even continued to foster during treatment for womb cancer.
Syrian refugee Yahya Faroukh (pictured left and right), 21, has been released without charge overnight
They did retire from fostering but after six months were persuaded to resume to cope with the influx of refugee children.
As well as Hassan, they cared for Yahyah Farroukh, 21, who was also arrested in connection with the bombing. He has since been released without charge, something Penny is relieved about.
‘She told me if he had been proved guilty she would have felt really devastated because he is such a lovely young man,’ Spencer says.
He adds: ‘When they started taking in refugees, I did have concerns about cultural differences.’
Asked if the authorities should do more to vet refugees before placing them with families, he says: ‘How can you do background checks when there’s no documentation? They’re coming from war-torn countries.’
After their horrendous ordeal, Spencer says ‘for his own sanity’ he now hopes his parents will retire from fostering.
‘I would like Mum and Dad to say, ‘We’ve done our bit. Let someone else pick up the torch.’ But who? After something like this, it will put people off.
‘Knowing what Mum and Dad are like, I wouldn’t be surprised if they take a respite then start again.’
Finally, welling up with tears, he says: ‘I want people to know they are loving, caring people. They don’t deserve what’s happened to them. Their only crime has been seeing a child and wanting to love them, wanting to try and treat them as a human being.’