“My son, Jack, who was killed in this attack, would not wish his death to be used as the pretext for more draconian sentences or for detaining people unnecessarily,” David Merritt said on Saturday. The father offered this statement as Boris Johnson began to direct the Tory general election campaign towards issues of tougher sentencing and security.
Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23, have been named as the two members of the public who were killed in the London Bridge terror attack on Friday. Jack worked for a programme designed to improve prisoner rehabilitation. Saskia wanted to provide support to victims of criminal injustice and had applied to a police programme with the intention of specialising in victim support. As we know, both were at Fishmongers’ Hall in London Bridge to attend a prison-based education project.
The knife attack was perpetrated by a convicted terrorist who had been automatically released from prison after serving eight years. In another example of the Conservatives trying to learn lessons from Theresa May’s 2017 campaign, the Tories tried to get on the front foot immediately. Boris Johnson announced new plans for tougher sentencing for terrorists, including a minimum sentence of 14 years. Despite criticism of his response to the attack, the Prime Minister will stick with his approach today and talk about preventing serious criminals and terrorists from entering Britain after Brexit. (It should be noted that the London Bridge attacker was born in Stoke-on-Trent.)
To take action in the wake of the attack, such as reviewing the licence conditions of others released early from jail sentences related to terror offences, may well be appropriate. But the rhetoric of Johnson and his snap decision to shift the blame towards Labour – without hesitation, without allowing time for reflection, without the full details being known – cannot be described as anything other than disgusting.
When Shami Chakrabarti was asked by Andrew Marr on Sunday whether something went wrong and if so what was it, she replied: “I don’t know… What I will say is that I think it’s very unedifying to be talking about knee-jerk legislation and throwing away keys and whatever. Legislation on the hoof, particularly after an atrocity, is rarely good legislation.”
Similarly asked by Marr about the attack, Boris Johnson said: “How could he be out so early? The answer is, I’m afraid, that he was out because he was on automatic early release. When the judges reviewed his sentence in 2012, they had no option but to comply with the law that Labour brought in 2008.” As well as representing insensitive political manoeuvring, this is a lie. Judges could have decided to keep the convicted terrorist in prison until a parole board deemed him safe to release. They did have options.
That was just the first of Johnson’s many lies during the Marr interview, during which he falsely claimed that Jeremy Corbyn wants to scrap MI5 and that the Queen’s Speech was blocked by parliament, amid other blatant untruths. The PM has also been accused of plagiarising a blogpost by the Secret Barrister that was actually written “to rebut the lies he spent yesterday spouting”.
Reacting to the headlines on Sunday, David Merritt added: “Don’t use my son’s death, and his and his colleague’s photos – to promote your vile propaganda. Jack stood against everything you stand for – hatred, division, ignorance.” His words should be repeated over and over.Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.