London Bridge killer Usman Khan may have been incapable of rehabilitation and “hoodwinked” the authorities to mount his terror attack, ministers believe, as they pledged longer jail sentences for terrorists and tougher restrictions on release.
Boris Johnson and Justice Secretary Robert Buckland questioned if Khan, 28, could have been rehabilitated after apparently deceiving police, probation and security services into believing he was a “reformed character” following his release from jail early under licence.
Sources disclosed the three agencies deemed him a “low risk” at review meetings weeks before he was allowed to make the trip alone to London Bridge where he murdered two young people before being shot dead by police.
He had been judged to require an escort on the one previous occasion when he returned to high security Whitemoor jail to talk to inmates about re-integrating into society after leaving prison.
"It feels like Khan has dealt a sucker punch. If there had been any concerns about him he would not have been allowed to travel to London. But it now looks like he had set out to deceive officials. He either hoodwinked them or he was re-radicalied when he left jail," said a well-placed source.
Boris Johnson said the question of whether some extremists might never be deradicalised was “very profound.”
He added: “There are unquestionably some cases which are just too tough to crack and, alas, [Khan] appears to have been one of them, and I'm afraid it was probably clear from the outset that that would be so."
Asked what should be done with such offenders, Mr Johnson said: "I think you have to do what you can and a great deal of effort was gone into to try to change him and try to change his ways, but in the end better, I'm afraid, for the protection of the public, better for the protection of society and of us all to keep him in [prison] rather than run the risk of letting him out.
"That's what we're proposing."
Khan was let out of jail a year ago half way through his 16-year sentence under early release rules that did not require an assessment of his threat to the public by the parole board.
Counter-terrorism agencies believe he outwitted the authorities by pretending to have rejected his extremist views after taking part in deradicalisation courses.
Mr Buckland said a serious further offence review would aim to establish how he could not be “of serious concern” for nearly a year, then “suddenly flip.”
“[Terrorists are] a particularly difficult and complex cohort of people. Often they harbour deep and long held hatreds. They can display superficial sense of compliance. They can be manipulative and hoodwink trained professionals. We have to be clear eyed about this type of offender,” he said.
Asked if that meant the possibility of rehabilitation was over for this group, he said: “I think we have got to be realistic about what is a small group of people but very dangerous group. Public safety has to be the number one priority.”
Mr Buckland said the MAPPA multi-agency supervision of terrorists involving police, probation and the security services after release would be “tested” to ensure “it does what it should be doing.”
“The MAPPA process needs to be looked at again in light of Friday's terrible events and if further legislation is required, we will certainly look at that. The Prime Minister has already signalled his intention to introduce new terrorism laws and I wholeheartedly support that."
On Sunday, Mr Johnson promised longer jail sentences for terrorists with a mandatory minimum of 14 years for serious offences as well as reiterating his pledge to abolish mandatory early release for violent criminals.
“There are a range of terrorism offences and we need to ensure the punishment correctly fits the crime. The need for the highest form of public protection from terrorists who seek to destroy our society and our liberty is stronger than ever,” said Mr Buckland.
Harry Fletcher, director of the Victims’ Rights Campaign, said there needed to be tougher checks on terrorists released into the community.
“The person to blame for this tragedy is the perpetrator. The way forward is to increase surveillance and supervision including unannounced visits and checks to those terrorists released on licence and properly resourcing the justice system,” he said.