The Streatham terror attack may have been prevented had home-grown jihadi Sudesh Amman been recalled to prison before he struck, an inquest jury has concluded.
Twenty-year-old Amman was shot dead by armed undercover officers after he stole a knife from a hardware shop and began randomly stabbing members of the public on Streatham High Road in south London, on February 2 2020.
Police and MI5 officers were so concerned about Amman two days before the atrocity that they held an emergency meeting to discuss the prospect of arresting the recently released terrorist.
But HM Prison and Probation Service decided not to recall him to prison, despite undercover officers spotting him buy four small bottles of Irn-Bru, kitchen foil and parcel tape from Poundland on January 31 – items they rightly feared could be used to make a hoax suicide belt.
Amman was kept under round-the-clock armed surveillance instead.
The senior investigating officer on the Amman case denied suggestions from the terrorist’s family that police should have intervened and that the undercover operation was a “massive failure”, saying instead the Met’s actions on the day he struck prevented further tragedy.
Amman had been living at a probation hostel in Streatham for 10 days when he stabbed a man and a woman – the former was placed in a medically induced coma for five days, the Independent Office for Police Conduct has since confirmed – before turning to charge at two armed police officers who gave chase.
The male victim and the police officers who eventually opened fire on Amman both described fearing they would die during the 62-second rampage.
The inquest jury at the Royal Courts of Justice returned a conclusion of lawful killing, after retiring for 11 hours to consider its finding, but said probation “missed an opportunity” to send him back to prison following the Poundland trip.
Jurors concluded the decision not to search Amman’s probation hostel, or search him in person on the day of the attack, did not amount to a missed opportunity.
The coroner Mr Justice Hilliard, at the inquest’s conclusion, said: “Amman was prepared to risk his life… In stark contrast the Metropolitan Police surveillance teams were prepared to put themselves in harm’s way.
“They are all to be commended for their bravery, and they are owed a considerable debt of gratitude for their bravery.”
Responding to the conclusion, Met Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick praised the officers for “their professionalism, courage and decisiveness in the most challenging of circumstances – fast-moving, horrific and frightening”.
She added: “The attack happened on a busy high street, and quite simply their quick actions almost certainly saved lives.”
Amman’s family already conceded police had little choice but to shoot the 20-year-old, who was born in Coventry and lived in Birmingham and north-west London.
The coroner said the evidence showed the officers who shot Amman “at every stage honestly believed that it was necessary to use force in defence of himself and others”.
The inquest, held over three weeks in central London, heard Amman was considered “one of the most dangerous individuals” investigated by police and MI5, and heard evidence he maintained an extremist mindset throughout his time in prison.
He was said to have plotted to kill the Queen, pledged allegiance to so-called Islamic State, and wanted to commit atrocities.
While in prison, Amman was also said to have revelled in his perceived notoriety as a young terrorist, and was said to have mixed with other high-profile offenders including the brother of Manchester Arena bomber Salman Abedi.
He was automatically released from Belmarsh jail on January 23, half-way through his 40-month sentence for obtaining and distributing material used for terrorist purposes, despite pleas to the prison governor to keep him in custody for longer after a police officer feared an attack would be “when, not if”.
The case resulted in a new law removing the automatic release of terror offenders on determinate sentences, meaning they now routinely serve two-thirds of their sentence before their custody status is decided by a Parole Board.
The inquest jury heard Amman was shot at six times, with between three and four bullets hitting him.
He suffered wounds in the neck and abdomen, and was pronounced dead at 3.24pm once the scene had been made safe.
There was “no indication” of any involvement from third parties, nor that he had breached any of his licence conditions prior to the attack.
Police defended the decision not to raid Amman’s hostel room following the Poundland haul, stating there was an insufficient time window in which to conduct such an operation.
Carina Heckroodt, head of the London Extremism Gangs and Organised Crime Unit at the Probation Service, denied it was a “missed opportunity” not to recall Amman to prison on January 31 after he was spotted buying items later used to fashion a fake suicide belt.
But in their conclusion, the jurors said: “Whilst the jury does acknowledge that several other avenues were explored in order to recall, there was a missed opportunity.”
They agreed that, based on its policy framework, HM Prison and Probation Service “could have recalled Amman to prison if satisfied that his behaviour indicated an increased or unmanageable risk of serious harm to the public or that there was an imminent risk of further offences being committed”.
The strategic firearms commander on the day, known as BX88 to protect his identity, told the inquest: “In the context of an armed operation, one person lost his life and others were injured.
“I have reflected a great deal and I have to say, I have been back through this in my mind from a personal perspective, I don’t see how we could have achieved a more effective result with the circumstances presented to us.
“I know that sounds harsh because Amman lost his life.
“We were responding to his actions, and his actions were attempting to kill people.”
Footage from undercover officers, CCTV and members of the public captured Amman’s final 35 minutes, during which he walked slowly to the high street, performing a series of about-turns which police described as anti-surveillance, before stealing the knife.
Members of the public could be seen scrambling for safety in shops as Amman sprinted along the busy street, before swiftly turning 180 degrees to face the officers with his knife raised at them.
He closed the short distance between them – reckoned to be around one metre (3ft) – within half a second, just as he was shot.
One witness who filmed the incident from a 201 bus travelling south, muttered: “This ain’t real, this ain’t real.”
Footage then showed Amman spending around 10 seconds lying on his back and flailing his arms and legs wildly before he stopped moving. He was declared dead 90 minutes later.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Dean Haydon, senior national co-ordinator for counter-terrorism policing, echoed the coroner’s remarks and praised police for being “in the right place at the right time”.
Speaking outside the Met’s New Scotland Yard, Mr Haydon added: “Lethal force is rare in this country but as you have heard the evidence in this case, once the attack had started, lethal force was one of the most effective ways of stopping the attack.
“Lastly, a case such as this is a timely reminder that the terrorist threat is very real and the terrorist threat has not gone away.”