LONDON — The two men vying to become Britain’s next prime minister have gone to war over who is to blame for the early release of a convicted terrorist who killed two people on Friday in central London.
With less than two weeks to go before the election, Prime Minister Boris Johnson tried to distance himself from his Conservative Party’s crime record and blamed Labour policies for the early release of Usman Khan, the 28-year-old attacker who was shot dead by police minutes after they were called.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said convicted terrorists shouldn’t necessarily serve out their full prison terms and blamed a decade of spending cuts to the prison service overseen by the Tories for the failure of authorities to identify the threat posed by Khan when he was released from jail a year ago.
When pushed on the record of the Tories on law and order and spending since 2010, Johnson repeatedly said he’s only been prime minister since the summer. In an interview on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show, Johnson blamed Labour because Khan was sentenced under laws passed in 2008 when Labour was in power that established automatic release.
Johnson told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show that about 74 people released early from terrorism sentences will have their license conditions reviewed. He announced on Sunday that he would stop the automatic early release of people guilty of terrorist crimes if he wins the Dec. 12 election.
His Security Minister Brandon Lewis said the government would have already started the process of stopping the early release of convicted terrorists if it weren’t for the U.K.’s hung parliament.
“How could he be out so early? The answer is I’m afraid that he was out because he was on automatic early release. When the judges reviewed his sentence in 2012, they had no option but to comply with the law that Labour brought in in 2008,” Johnson said.
Khan originally received an open-ended sentence, which was changed on appeal in 2013 to 16 years. But a prison expert said Conservative ministers ignored his findings in 2016 when he warned that the parole system couldn’t cope with terrorists. Writing in the Sunday Times, Ian Acheson, who was hired to advise ministers on the dangers of Islamic extremists in prisons, said the government accepted just eight of his 69 recommendations, including none of those about the probation service.
Corbyn meanwhile said candidates for early release should be looked at on an individual basis and undergo psychological assessments.
“Our probation service was half privatized, is not up to scratch, is not able to deal with the number of cases they have to deal with,” he told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday show.
Shami Chakrabarti, Labour’s Justice spokeswoman, warned against “knee-jerk” policies in reaction to the attack. “Legislation on the hoof, particularly after an atrocity, is rarely good legislation,” she told Marr.
She was echoing comments made by the father of Jack Merritt, who was killed on Friday in the attack. Writing on Twitter, David Merritt said his son “would not wish his death to be used as the pretext for more draconian sentences or for detaining people unnecessarily.”
The 25-year-old victim was a course leader the Cambridge University prison rehabilitation program that hosted the conference in Fishmonger’s Hall on London Bridge, which Khan was attending as a guest. While inside Khan stabbed two people to death and wounded three others.