A woman stabbed by convicted terrorist Usman Khan said he was “expressionless” when she came face to face with the armed assailant in the midst of his bloody spree.
Stephanie Szczotko suffered wounds to her arms and torso during the attack at Fishmongers’ Hall in central London on November 29 2019, when 28-year-old Khan armed himself with knives and a fake suicide belt and unleashed horror on unsuspecting delegates at a prisoner rehabilitation event.
Khan, from Stafford in the West Midlands, fatally stabbed Cambridge graduates Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23, who were attending the event, before being tackled by members of the public with a decorative pike, narwhal tusk and fire extinguisher. He was then shot dead by police on London Bridge.
Giving evidence at the inquests at Guildhall in the City of London on Tuesday, Ms Szczotko recalled how she heard “some screams and shouts” within Fishmongers’ Hall which caught her attention.
She said: “I could just hear screams as if people were scared. I detected fear.
“I saw a cluster of people run past from the left to the right, five to 10 people.
“They were running, coming from the left to the right in front of me.
“I wasn’t sure what they were running from or who, that’s when I saw a man run towards me.”
Ms Szczotko, who was invited to the event due to her work with prisoners as part of her criminology degree, said she remembered seeing Khan with a knife raised above his head.
“I just remember being struck by something, I didn’t necessarily know what it was,” she said.
“The knife didn’t look metallic, it looked ceramic.
“The knife was already above his head, I think I instinctively raised my arm just as he struck.
“For a moment I felt I was just paused in that moment. I remember looking at him with shock and confusion.”
Jonathan Hough QC, counsel to the inquiry, referred to Ms Szczotko’s witness statement, in which she said Khan “didn’t seem particularly bothered or psyched up, he didn’t seem angry, he didn’t have any expression on his face”.
Ms Szczotko added: “He was expressionless, yes.”
She told the inquests she did not realise how seriously she was injured until she later saw blood on her white blouse.
Earlier, Simon Bird, a maintenance electrician working at Fishmongers’ Hall on the day of the atrocity, said he heard Khan shouting for the front doors to be opened to make good his escape onto London Bridge.
He said: “The first thing I noticed is one of the ceremonial plaques wasn’t on the wall, and I heard a voice from someone I now know to be Usman Khan: ‘Open the effing door, open the effing door.’
“The first thing I noticed was his beard, then my eyes were drawn down and I saw a large kitchen knife in his hand.
“Then my eyes were drawn down further and I saw what I described as a river of blood.”
Another witness, Ann-Marie Willison, recalled seeing Mr Merritt moments before he was fatally stabbed.
She told the inquests she was sat in a room where a guest speaker briefly paused after hearing a scream, but then continued with the presentation.
She said: “I couldn’t really comprehend what was going on.
“A guy came in the room and said: ‘I’m not getting involved in any of that madness downstairs.’
“I thought maybe it was ‘a domestic’ going on.”
Khan had been released from jail a year earlier having been convicted of planning a jihadist training camp.
Earlier, emergency doctor Samy Sadek said he became immediately aware of the seriousness of the unfolding situation by speaking to visibly distressed armed police at the scene.
He said: “(They) came towards us rapidly, they looked very distressed and asked us to come immediately into the scene.
“I also felt the urgency on the face and in the voice of the police officer, who was clearly very experienced, who told me we were required.”
Dr Sadek also said his team had to assess casualties despite rumours of a bomb and concerns that Khan was not acting alone.
But he said nothing further could have been done to save either Mr Merritt or Ms Jones.
The jury inquests, taking place before coroner Mark Lucraft QC, continue.