Witnesses to the Fishmongers’ Hall attack have described trying to save the life of a young Cambridge graduate stabbed to death by a convicted terrorist at a prisoner education event.
Former HMP Grendon inmate Gareth Evans held Saskia Jones in his arms and told her “she was loved and she was beautiful” as she lay dying after being attacked by Usman Khan at the conference near London Bridge on November 29 2019.
He rushed to her aid after she was stabbed in the neck by Khan, who had earlier been seen chatting to her at the Learning Together anniversary event.
Prison officer Adam Roberts also described how he tried to stem the bleeding, and got Miss Jones, 23, in a protective hug, as an “aggressive” Khan, armed with two knives and wearing what appeared to be a suicide belt, stood feet away.
Khan, 28, fatally wounded Miss Jones and fellow Cambridge University graduate Jack Merritt, 25, and injured several others in a rampage at the conference.
On Monday the inquests into the victims’ deaths, being held at Guildhall in the City of London, heard how delegates rushed to try to save Miss Jones.
Mr Evans said she collapsed as he took hold of her. Appearing to wipe his eyes, he told the jury: “I was trying to make sure she felt comfortable and safe.
“I said she was loved and she was beautiful.”
Mr Roberts, who had escorted prisoner Steven Gallant to the event at Fishmongers’ Hall on day release, said he tried to stem the bleeding with his jacket and tried to shield her.
He said: “It was an attempt to stop the bleeding, but it was almost working out like a hug, and telling her to look at me and not him, so she was looking at someone who was trying to help her rather than something else.”
Mr Roberts added: “It was an attempt to stop the bleeding and give her a chance.”
Describing Khan’s behaviour, Mr Roberts said: “Aggressive, a very fronting-up sort of stance, with his knives clearly showing, generally being aggressive and shouting.”
He was moving backwards and forwards making “false charges”, the jury heard, “almost coaxing people to come towards him, but almost like he didn’t want them to”.
Fellow attendee James Ford appeared emotional as he gave evidence about how he tried to help Ms Jones.
Recalling the aftermath, he said: “She was lying on her side, she was bleeding, she wasn’t really moving.”
He added: “I can’t bring myself to say it – I saw the attacker.”
Marc Conway, a policy officer with the Prison Reform Trust, said he initially thought people were play-fighting when he looked through the door into the foyer of Fishmongers’ Hall.
He said: “I thought people were messing about, then when I looked more closely I saw Usman Khan with his back to me and people moving out of his way, hitting him.
“I turned to the side and I saw the knives in his hand.”
Mr Conway said bystanders tried to hit Khan with various items, including a wooden chair, in a bid to stop him.
But he said: “He (Khan) wasn’t reacting in a way I think someone hit with a chair would react.
“There was some added motivation or strength there that I hadn’t seen before.”
Mr Conway said he phoned 999 and saw Khan burst out of Fishmongers’ Hall, making his way on to London Bridge, before turning to face those in pursuit, appearing to cross the knives he was holding across his face as he did so.
Mr Conway then ran across the bridge to try to help wrestle the knives from Khan, before realising that he had what appeared to be an explosive belt strapped to him.
Khan was tackled by members of the public with a decorative pike, narwhal tusk and fire extinguisher, and was then shot dead by police on London Bridge.
Mr Conway said: “I just wanted to help.
“When someone said he’s got a bomb, and you realise that he’s got a belt round him, you felt like you was fighting for your life.”
Khan was then fatally shot by police.
The inquests also heard from waitress Sandra Bufano, who had helped serve brunch at the event and was covering the cloakroom for a colleague when the attack began.
She heard screaming coming from the nearby men’s toilet, where Khan stabbed Mr Merritt, before he emerged and locked eyes with her.
“He was not doing anything, but just staring at me,” Ms Bufano said, describing the look as “very intense”.
Khan then stepped towards Ms Jones, who was about to leave belongings in the cloakroom, and stabbed her in the neck.
“He wasn’t rushing, he was completely calm and collected. He moved without rushing,” Ms Bufano said.
She saw Khan’s arm move upwards, and then told the jury: “At that point she screamed, at that point I thought something really bad is happening here.”
Ms Bufano then saw Mr Merritt looking unsteady on his feet with blood dripping down his arm, and “panicked” and ran.
The jury inquests, taking place before Chief Coroner Mark Lucraft QC, were adjourned until Tuesday.