Through September and October, inquests have taken place in to the six individuals who died in the Westminster Bridge terror attack on 22 March 2017; the four pedestrians on the bridge, PC Keith Palmer and the attacker himself Khalid Masood.
Unsurprisingly all were found to have been unlawfully killed by Masood, save for Masood himself who was found to have been lawfully killed by an armed police officer.
But this much was obvious as the events were unfolding, and nobody has ever suggested any other verdicts were possible in these circumstances. An inquest is an opportunity to learn lessons, and the coroner, the Chief Coroner for England and Wales, Mark Lucraft QC, made some comments on collateral issues that included:
- criticising the security arrangements at Parliament which, but for which, he said, PC Palmer’s murder might have been prevented;
- commenting that government lacked a systematic approach to securing vulnerable locations to terrorist attacks such as bridges; and
- defending the Acting Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police for locking himself and two civilians in his car whilst the attack was unfolding.
However, the most important question – what really caused these six deaths to occur - he has been silent.
We do now know the following about the attacker.
He was born in Kent and given the name Adrian Russell Elms until he took his step father’s surname Ajao. His parents have been described as a model of respectability. Mother currently makes handbags and cushions from home.
Adrian, now called Khalid Masood, told children from this third marriage, shortly before the attack that he was ‘going to die fighting for God’, and just minutes before the attack started he sent a document entitled “Jihad in the Quran and Sunnah” - said to include numerous quotations from the Quran and hadith justifying violence against unbelievers- to a number of his contacts on WhatsApp.
It is plain that the Westminster Bridge attack was an act of jihad - violence committed to comply with the Quran’s exhortations to wage war against unbelievers. However this motivation is nowhere recorded in the inquest verdict.
By far the most important question that the inquest should have focussed upon is how the transition of Adrian Ajao, a man with no background in Islam, to Khalid Masood, suicide jihadi, occurred.
His first wife Jane Harvey told the inquest that he started reading the Quran whist in prison (2000-1) for slashing the landlord of a village pub in the face.
A girlfriend of his, following his release, said: “Adrian was vile. He was controlling, violent, obsessive, intelligent and narcissistic.
I’m amazed he was religious. I honestly believe this is a front, an excuse to hurt people. He would love the attention and the fear he has caused.”
By the time he started his second prison term in 2003 (for possession of a knife, although the case had been tried as attempted murder since his knife in fact broke inside his victim’s face) he formally identified himself as Muslim and was using the name Khalid Masood.
He married twice again following his release: briefly to Farzana Malik who left him alleging violent behaviour, and for a longer period to Rohey Hydara with whom he had children.
Interestingly for a person with no educational training he obtained work as an English teacher for the aviation authority in Saudi Arabia (2005-6 and 2008-9). In more recent years he worked as an English teacher in Birmingham and Luton where his name cropped up several times as a peripheral figure in MI5 investigations due to the company he kept. He visited Saudi Arabia a third time in 2015.
It was no doubt relatively comfortable for the coroner to focus, in a wise-after-the-event sort of way, on criticising the police for the deployment of their armed officers and on the government for not having a sufficiently extensive programme for building vehicle attack barriers. Anybody who visits Central London will see no shortage of armed police or barriers, but there will always be room, and one fears need, for more.
To discover what really caused the Westminster Bridge attack involves asking questions of the sort that those in authority always seem to find impossible to utter, let alone answer.
- What first attracted an imprisoned knife wielding psychopath to Islam as the one faith that gave spiritual meaning and direction to his hate-filled life?
- Why was ‘Masood’ - an unambitious man with no qualifications and two recent sentences of imprisonment for violence - welcomed into Saudi Arabia with a plum job teaching English to its air traffic controllers?
- When a violent individual with unexplained Saudi connections crops up on the periphery of numerous terrorist enquiries, but he is not regarded as worth specifically investigating, what does this tell us about the breadth and depth of the jihadi culture that has been allowed to develop, effectively unchallenged, in high Muslim population areas such as Luton and Birmingham?
The inquest process asks narrow questions and, unlike the inquest into the deaths of those killed by Masood, when it came to Masood’s death, Mr Lucraft did not stray far from the physical events that day in Westminster. One suspects he would not have needed to look far for the answers. Masood was probably telling anyone who would listen for over a decade.
But the inquest has now ended, the file closed. Another the grand meaningless ritual of the state carried out with impeccable precision, with all the questions that might have alerted the public to things they urgently need to consider, meticulously avoided.
By Paul Ellis, Legal Spokesman, For Britain Movement