| 10.8°C Belfast

Tributes paid to three friends killed in park terror attack

A 25-year-old man remains in custody following the incident in Reading on the weekend.

Close

Floral tributes are left at Forbury Gardens, in Reading town centre (Steve Parsons/PA)

Floral tributes are left at Forbury Gardens, in Reading town centre (Steve Parsons/PA)

Floral tributes are left at Forbury Gardens, in Reading town centre (Steve Parsons/PA)

The three friends killed in a suspected terrorist attack in Reading have been described as kind, genuine and the “loveliest” people in the community.

Tributes were paid to Joe Ritchie-Bennett, 39, originally from Philadelphia in the US, history teacher James Furlong, 36, and David Wails.

Khairi Saadallah, 25, remains in custody after he was detained a short distance from the scene at Forbury Gardens and arrested on suspicion of murder on Saturday night.

Saadallah, a refugee of the civil war in Libya who briefly came to the attention of MI5 last year, was released from prison earlier this month after he was convicted of non-terror offences and police had reportedly been in contact with him just hours before the attack.

As counter-terror officers investigate Saturday’s incident, mental health is understood to be seen as a major factor.

Close

Flowers placed outside The Blagrave Arms (Steve Parsons/PA)

Flowers placed outside The Blagrave Arms (Steve Parsons/PA)

PA

Flowers placed outside The Blagrave Arms (Steve Parsons/PA)

A mental health alert was raised when Saadallah was not home on Friday evening, and a “street triage” team of police officers and psychiatric nurses later found him in a street in Reading, the Daily Mail reported.

The team took him home to his council flat before midnight on Friday, just hours before he is alleged to have carried out the attack.

A heart-shaped floral tribute to the three victims could be seen outside the Blagrave Arms pub in Reading, alongside candles and a note which read: “The Blagrave Arms management and staff are devastated at the announcement that the three people who died in the Forbury Gardens attack on Saturday were regular customers and very dear friends of ours.

“Our hearts go out to their family and friends, and the other victims of this horrific incident.”

A message among the flowers paid tribute to the three, adding: “Our friends were the kindest, most genuine, and most loveliest people in our community that we had the pleasure in knowing.

“They’ll be forever in our thoughts.”

A friend said Mr Ritchie-Bennett and history teacher Mr Furlong were “great supporters” of the LGBT+ community.

“Their loss is a tragedy to so many people,” Martin Cooper, 36, who is chief executive of LGBT+ charity Reading Pride, told the PA news agency.

“They will be sorely missed by myself personally and many in the community.”

Mr Ritchie-Bennett’s father said the attack had caused “some of the worst days of my life” and led to “sleepless nights”.

Speaking in the US, Robert Ritchie-Bennett said: “We’re going to bring him back here and bury him here because we want him close by.”

Meanwhile, a friend of the three attack victims, Michael Main, described the “amazing, caring and beautiful men” he had known for six years.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, he recalled Mr Wail’s “dry sense of humour” and how “he would do anything for anyone that he could”.

Mr Main said Mr Furlong was a “passionate” and “inspirational” teacher, while Mr Ritchie-Bennett was a “funny and a happy-go-lucky, true and unique individual”.

Close

Khairi Saadallah who was held close to the scene at Forbury Gardens (Facebook/PA)

Khairi Saadallah who was held close to the scene at Forbury Gardens (Facebook/PA)

PA

Khairi Saadallah who was held close to the scene at Forbury Gardens (Facebook/PA)

Any ideology or motivation behind the attack is still unclear, PA understands.

Saadallah was tackled to the ground by an unarmed police officer who has only been in the force for 14 months, and arrested on suspicion of murder.

He was later re-arrested under Section 41 of the Terrorism Act, which gives powers to hold him without charge for up to 14 days.

On Monday, detectives were granted a warrant of further detention until Saturday. Police have said they are not looking for anyone else in connection with the attack.

Early on Tuesday, Scotland Yard’s head of counter-terrorism policing called those who assisted victims of Saturday’s attack “heroes” who inspired others to “step forward and play our part”.

Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu also encouraged members of the public to view the Action Counters Terrorism (ACT) website and complete the CT Policing online course.

Three people who were injured and treated in hospital had been discharged by Monday evening.

PA understands from security sources that MI5 had received intelligence that Saadallah planned to travel abroad, possibly for terrorism purposes, but the threat was found to be insubstantial and the information provided did not meet the threshold of investigation.

Meanwhile, light has been shone on the fact the number of people on an MI5 watchlist has risen by thousands.

A government document from March this year titled Transparency Report: Disruptive Powers 2018/2019, said MI5 was investigating approximately 3000 subjects of interest (SOIs) across 600 priority investigations.

It said as soon as MI5 judged an SOI no longer posed a threat, that SOI was downgraded and placed in a “closed” category called Closed Subject of Interest (CSOI).

Close

Colleagues and pupils of teacher James Furlong take part in a period of silence at the Holt School (Steve Parsons/PA)

Colleagues and pupils of teacher James Furlong take part in a period of silence at the Holt School (Steve Parsons/PA)

PA

Colleagues and pupils of teacher James Furlong take part in a period of silence at the Holt School (Steve Parsons/PA)

“This does not mean these SOIs will never pose a threat again, but merely that their current level of threat is not judged to be sufficient to prioritise allocating investigative resource against them,” the report said.

It goes on to say the public figure for the number of CSOIs in 2017 was 20,000, and that there are now currently more than 40,000 CSOIs.

PA