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Reading stabbings: Khairi Saadallah jailed for park murders

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image captionKhairi Saadallah admitted three counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder

A killer who stabbed three men to death in a Reading park has been handed a whole-life jail term.

Khairi Saadallah murdered James Furlong, 36, David Wails, 49, and 39-year-old Joe Ritchie-Bennett, in June last year in Forbury Gardens.

London's Old Bailey previously heard the 26-year-old "executed" the men as an "act of religious jihad".

Passing sentence Judge Mr Justice Sweeney said it was a "ruthless and brutal" terror attack.

Saadallah, who admitted the murders, had also pleaded guilty to the attempted murders of three other men who were also in the park.

The judge said the victims "had no chance to react, let alone defend themselves".

image copyrightFamily handouts
image caption(L-R) David Wails, Joe Ritchie-Bennett and James Furlong were pronounced dead at the scene

He said he was sure the attack "involved a substantial degree of premeditation or planning" and was carried out "for the purpose of advancing a political, religious, or ideological cause".

BBC News correspondent Helena Wilkinson, who was in court, said the families of James Furlong and David Wails were present, while Joseph Ritchie-Bennett's loved ones watched via a link from America.

Saadallah showed no emotion as Mr Justice Sweeney went through his sentencing remarks.

On the afternoon of 20 June, the park was busy due to the first lockdown restrictions being relaxed in England.

Andrew Cafe, who witnessed the stabbings, said he saw Saadallah wielding the "biggest kitchen knife" and charging towards him shouting "Allahu Akbar".

Pharmaceutical manager Mr Ritchie-Bennett and teacher Mr Furlong died from single stab wounds to their necks, while scientist Mr Wails was stabbed once in the back.

Despite treatment from paramedics and doctors, all three friends, who were members of the LGBT community, died at the scene.

media captionWitness Andrew Cafe visited Forbury Gardens for the first time since the attack

Three other people - Nishit Nisudan, Patrick Edwards and Stephen Young - were also injured, before Saadallah threw away the knife and fled the scene, pursued by police.

Following his arrest, Saadallah initially said he wanted to plead guilty to the "jihad that I done", but the prosecution claimed he later feigned mental illness in police interviews.

At a previous hearing, the court heard he had developed an emotionally unstable and anti-social personality disorder, with his behaviour worsened by alcohol and cannabis misuse.

But the judge said it was "clear that the defendant did not, and does not, have any major mental illness".

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An examination of Saadallah's phone revealed an interest in extremist material, including images of the flag of Islamic State and Jihadi John, the court previously heard.

While at HMP Bullingdon in 2017, he was seen to associate with radical preacher Omar Brookes, who has connections with banned terrorist organisation Al-Muhajiroun.

The court heard Saadallah, who arrived in Britain from Libya in 2012, had previously been involved with militias who had been part of the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi, and was pictured handling weapons, including firearms.

Since seeking asylum in Britain, he had been repeatedly arrested and convicted of various offences, including theft and assault, between 2013 and 2020.

media captionCCTV cameras captured Khairi Saadallah before and after the stabbing

He briefly came to the attention of MI5 in 2019, but the information provided did not meet the threshold of investigation.

Saadallah had been released from prison on 5 June, days before the attack, the court heard.

On 17 June, he researched the location for his attack online and carried out reconnaissance in the park.

The following day his probation officer alerted his mental health team over comments he made about magic.

A day later, Saadallah contacted the crisis team himself, but when they visited he did not answer.

Following concerns from his brother, police visited the killer the same day, but he told officers he was "alright" while he stood near a knife he bought from a supermarket.

image captionAndrew Wails said losing his brother had been devastating

After the sentencing, James Furlong's father, Gary, said: "The secretary of state needs to tell us why this guy wasn't put into some form of detention centre before they could deport him.

"He was not safe to be released back on the streets."

Referring to the fact that Saadallah had been visited by police the night before the attack, Mr Furlong said: "Given the volume of crimes he's committed and the information that they had on him, for an assessment to be done the night before to say that he's not a danger to the public - it is beyond me."

He described Mr Furlong, originally from Liverpool, as "a lovely man, loved by his family, idolised by his mother".

David Wails' brother Andrew said: "For us as a family it's been devastating to lose our much loved son, brother and uncle."

In a statement, the Bennett family described Mr Ritchie-Bennett as a "devoted and loving husband" and "a man who cared strongly about family".

image copyrightPA Media
image captionThe park had been busy due to the first lockdown restrictions being relaxed in England

Det Ch Supt Kath Barnes, head of Counter Terrorism Policing South East, described Saadallah as "a committed jihadist".

She said: "He has caused unspeakable hurt and distress to the families of the three men who were brutally murdered as they were relaxing and enjoying socialising with friends on a Saturday evening.

"I'm sure there will also be lasting effects on those who were injured in the attack, who were fortunate not to have been even more seriously harmed."

Reading Borough Council leader Jason Brock described the attacks as "horrific" and "senseless" and said a permanent memorial to the victims was planned.

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