05 August 2021

Police feared attack would be ‘when, not if’ as terrorist’s jail release loomed

05 August 2021

Police predicted a convicted terrorist would attack the public upon his release from prison, less than a month before his broad daylight knife rampage which ended when he was shot dead, his inquest heard.

MI5 and police officers discussing intelligence about 20-year-old Sudesh Amman on January 9 2020, two weeks before he was automatically released from Belmarsh prison for terror offences, were so concerned about his threat level that one officer remarked an attack would be “when, not if”.

The evidence emerged as Carina Heckroodt, head of the London Extremism Gangs and Organised Crime Unit at the Probation Service, denied it was a “missed opportunity” not to recall Amman to prison on January 31 after he was spotted buying items later used to fashion a fake suicide belt.

Amman, who had been bailed to Streatham in south London upon his release from prison on January 23, launched a 62-second attack on February 2 after stealing a knife from a high street shop and stabbing people apparently at random while wearing the hoax explosive, before his atrocity was brought to a halt when he was fatally shot by police.

Sudesh Amman going into Poundland in Streatham on January 31 2020 where he bought items including four bottles of Irn Bru and kitchen foil, two days before the atrocity (Metropolitan Police/PA) (PA Media)

Amman’s inquest at the Royal Courts of Justice previously heard of intelligence concerns about his behaviour in prison – specifically his allegiance to so-called Islamic State, his apparent desire to radicalise others, and his unwavering reluctance to engage with authorities.

Extremism Risk Guidance (ERG) prepared ahead of his release also warned of the risk of Amman staging an attack in public.

On Thursday, it was disclosed that police shared those concerns.

Ms Heckroodt’s witness statements, read before the inquest jury, said: “On January 9, I attended a JOT (Joint Operational Team) meeting in London to discuss Amman.

“This meeting was attended by a number of people and included the police and the security service (MI5).

Sudesh Amman buying items used in his fake suicide belt from Poundland (Metropolitan Police/PA) (PA Media)

“I cannot remember all of the attendees and I am not sure who they all represented.

“During this JOT, the police said that Amman was a high threat and that an attack would be when, not if.”

Ms Heckroodt also said Amman was considered at that meeting to be “high threat” and it was “suspected he would use a knife to carry out an attack”.

She said she subsequently learned Amman bought some bottles of Irn Bru soft drink, a roll of tape and some kitchen foil from Poundland, prompting her to call the Probation Service’s national security lead to discuss whether Amman could have breached the terms of his release from prison.

However, it was not felt Amman’s actions were sufficient enough to recall him to prison. He struck two days later.

Sudesh Amman’s bedroom in his approved premises, the probation hostel in Streatham, south London (Metropolitan Police/PA) (PA Media)

Giving evidence, Ms Heckroodt said she was “satisfied” there was nothing about the purchases that suggested he had breached any licence conditions.

Rajiv Menon, representing Amman’s family, said: “Your failure to recall him was a most serious missed opportunity in this case.”

Ms Heckroodt replied: “I disagree, it was not a missed opportunity.”

Bilal Rawat, for the Probation Service, asked: “If you were aware of the risk he presented, if you found a legitimate basis to recall him, would you?”

Ms Heckroodt replied: “I would have done it immediately.”

The inquest also heard how police did not search Amman’s room at his probation hostel because they “did not want to show their hand” that he was under surveillance.

Recalling her conversation with police at the time, Ms Heckroodt said: “We were trying to think what else can we do, what were his intentions?

“A room search was not possible. The police were very careful not to show their hand at the time.

“We couldn’t do anything to show him he was under covert surveillance.”

Amman, who is originally from Coventry and of Sri Lankan descent, stabbed and injured two people on Streatham High Road before he was shot dead.

His inquest continues.

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