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Fishmongers’ Hall survivor ‘played dead’ during terror attack, inquest told

Emily Pennink, PA Old Bailey Correspondent
·5-min read

A survivor of the Fishmongers’ Hall terror attack has told how she “played dead” after Usman Khan stabbed her repeatedly and tried to “finish” her.

Convicted terrorist Khan, 28, killed Cambridge University graduates Saskia Jones, 23, and Jack Merritt, 25, on the afternoon of November 29 2019.

He injured three more people during a five-minute rampage at a Learning Together event before being shot dead by police on London Bridge.

Incident on London Bridge
Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones were killed in the attack (Metropolitan Police/PA)

Isobel Rowbotham worked part-time as an office manager for Learning Together, an organisation dedicated to the education of prisoners.

Giving evidence at Guildhall in the City of London, Ms Rowbotham, a student at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, said she had been in the foyer when Mr Merritt emerged covered in blood.

She said: “He was shouting that he had been stabbed. He was holding his stomach and had obviously been injured.

“There was a lot of blood. He was wearing a white shirt so the red blood was quite obvious. He was hunched and in a lot of pain.

“I looked around to my left and then I saw Usman (Khan) coming towards me with knives in his hands.”

Ms Rowbotham said he was a few metres away, holding two big kitchen knives and moving “purposefully”.

Incident at London Bridge
Jack Merritt at a Learning Together event at Fishmongers’ Hall (Met Police/PA)

“I knew who it was and said ‘No, Usman, please don’t’.

“He was not going to stop. I turned to my left and just tried to hunch and protect myself.”

When he stabbed her repeatedly it felt like being punched, she told jurors.

“I remember his final stabs were in my neck and it felt sort of like he thought they were final stabs, as in they were intended to finish me.

“I was on the floor and had closed my eyes but could still hear.

“I decided to play dead just in case he came back again and realised I wasn’t dead straightaway.

“I tried to slow down my breathing and blood flow as much as possible.”

Incident at London Bridge
Jack Merritt at Fishmongers’ Hall before he was stabbed (Met Police/PA)

The witness said: “Immediately after I had been stabbed … I tried to use touch ID to open my phone, there was too much blood to press on the screen, so I didn’t.”

Ms Rowbotham was given first aid before being taken to hospital, the court heard.

Housekeeping supervisor Ama Otchere came across Khan coming out of the men’s toilet with “anger in his face” after he had stabbed Mr Merritt.

As she backed away, he put his finger to his lips as if to tell her not to scream, the court heard.

Describing the attack on Ms Jones, Ms Otchere said: “As soon as he saw the lady came to the cloakroom he used the knife to stab the lady’s shoulder.

“The lady was screaming and I just ran from the scene.”

The witness said she believed Khan was reciting from the Koran in Arabic.

Incident on London Bridge
Usman Khan and Saskia Jones sat at a table together two hours before the attack (Met Police/PA)

Retired judge John Samuels was on a balcony looking down at the spot where Ms Jones collapsed.

He told jurors: “I saw, looking down from the balcony, a female who was lying collapsed on that first flight of stairs with her head on the upper staircase and her legs below.

“I noted particularly that her face was chalk white. She appeared unconscious to me or perhaps even dead.”

Incident at London Bridge
Usman Khan at Bank station on route to Fishmongers’ Hall (Met Police/PA)

Learning Together research associate Simon Larmour met Khan in March 2019 following his release from prison and followed up with phone calls.

Initially, Khan was “quite neurotic” and focused on his time in prison but went on to discuss writing and trying to visit his family during later conversations, the court heard.

The witness said: “He was quite a neurotic character as a baseline, very energetic.”

In a call the week before the attack, Khan seemed “a bit off”, jurors were told.

Mr Larmour said: “It was very short, normally he likes to talk a lot. It did seem like he wanted to get off the line as quickly as possible. He seemed a bit off.”

Mr Larmour said he discussed the call with a colleague, telling her Khan had seemed “a bit weird and depressed”.

On the morning of November 29, Mr Larmour had met Khan at Euston Station and escorted him to Fishmongers’ Hall.

Earlier, Khan called him “panicking” that his train to London was cancelled and Mr Merritt had stepped in to help find another one, the court heard.

Describing the attack that afternoon, Mr Larmour, who had found out about Khan’s conviction for preparing terrorist acts on a Google search, said he heard screams.

Mr Merritt walked towards him with blood on his shirt saying: “I just got stabbed”, the court heard.

Mr Larmour dropped his phone, jumped over a table and went into a reception area where he tended to Mr Merritt, the court heard.

Pc Kate Langtry told the court how she and her colleagues provided first aid to Mr Merritt at the scene.

She said: “He was very grey in the face, he was thrashing quite violently. I understood him to be severely injured at this stage.”

She went on: “There was no pulse and he was no longer breathing and we commenced CPR.

“He had gone from thrashing quite violently to now very still.”

After paramedics arrived, the officers took Mr Merritt outside on a stretcher.

Medics carried out open chest surgery in the street, but Mr Merritt could not be saved.

The inquest into the victims’ deaths was adjourned until Thursday.