Police on Cannon Street in London near the scene of an incident on London Bridge in central London.
Kirsty O'Connor/PA Images via Getty Images
  • The two victims and the attacker in the terrorist attack on London Bridge all had ties to an education-based prison rehabilitation project out of Cambridge University.
  • The Learning Together program aims to reduce re-offenses by prisoners building a more inclusive learning community, according to a university webpage.
  • The attack broke out at a fifth-anniversary event for the group, and the organisation's placement at the centre of the tragedy hasn't gone unnoticed by lawmakers and advocates speaking out on potentially addressing change in Britain's prison rehabilitation system.
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An education-based prison rehabilitation project out of Cambridge University has emerged at the centre of a terrorist attack on London Bridge as lawmakers and advocates weigh how the attack could inform action on Britain's prison rehabilitation system.

The victims of the attack, former Cambridge students 25-year-old Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones, were involved with the Learning Together program, which aims to reduce reoffenses by prisoners building a more inclusive learning community, according to a university webpage for the program.

Based in the university's Institute of Criminology, the programme was designed to confront the "stigma, marginalisation, and the role of intergroup contact in reducing prejudice" for those released from prison through weeks-long courses, in which the group said it found major success in creating new ways for those re-entering society to engage with learning and new material.

The group was gathered for a fifth-anniversary event of its 2014 founding that included a workshop on storytelling and creative writing for guests like former inmates and prison staff when police responded to reports of a stabbing attack launched by an attendee, former prisoner and program participant 28-year-old Usman Khan, who was used as a case study in one of the program's reports, according to the BBC.

The victims' and the attacker's ties to the group were noticeable in reports following the attack, including those that revealed Marc Conway, a former prisoner, was part of the heroic effort that confronted and disarmed Khan, and the group's central mission of supporting and enriching former prisoners was not lost in those exploring responses to the attack.

Merritt's father, David, emphasised in now-deleted tweets that he knew his son wouldn't want the extremist attack to be used by lawmakers to install "more draconian sentences or for detaining people unnecessarily."

"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," the post read. "R.I.P. Jack: you were a beautiful spirit who always took the side of the underdog."

The post seemed to allude to Khan's criminal background that was later reported to have gone on for years before the attack and still preserved his relative freedom, despite previous warnings from a judge about the threats he posed to society.

Khan's criminal record included acts of terrorism. He was part of a group of men charged in 2010 with plotting to attack the London Stock Exchange. When he was 19, Khan pleaded guilty to trying to raise money to build an Arabic educational institution in Kashmir that would provide firearms training.

In 2012, he was sentenced to eight years in prison, before an appeals court later gave him a sentence of 16 years in April 2013. He was granted an early release on the condition that he wear an electronic monitoring tag, despite record of a judgment reported by The New York Times in which the court was warned that there was "no doubt" Khan was dangerous.

The Times reported that Lord Justice Brian Leveson said "no doubt that anyone convicted of this type of offense could legitimately be considered dangerous."

PA

Work by groups like Learning Together in the aftermath of the most recent knife attack could play a key role as advocates and lawmakers could point to in arguing for criminal justice reform in Britain in the run-up to the government seeking re-election.

David Wilson, a professor of criminology at Birmingham City University who was involved with the project's run at England's Grendon Prison, tweeted that the attack should not undermine the program's achievements in furthering resources for former prisoners.

"Cambridge University and their Learning Together initiative is wonderful," Wilson wrote. "What they have achieved should not be undermined by the London Bridge attack. I am obviously aware that two prisoners were involved - the attacker and a second who tried to prevent it."

However, the country's Conservative Party has been vocal in its push for harsher sentencing laws, and in the wake of reports detailing Khan's criminal background, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the party was "saying we will stop at nothing to keep people safe," and Prime Minister Boris Johnson said conservative lawmakers would "take action against" the release of terrorists.

London has been grappling with repeated terrorist attacks in recent years, but the attack over the weekend came just weeks after the government lowered its terror threat warning level to substantial from severe.

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