The family and friends of the three men killed in a terror attack in Reading have taken part in a memorial service to commemorate one year since they were stabbed to death.
History teacher James Furlong, 36, scientist Dr David Wails, 49, and Joseph Ritchie-Bennett, 39, who worked for a pharmaceutical company, were murdered in Forbury Gardens on June 20 last year.
The three friends had been enjoying a summer evening together as lockdown restrictions eased when they were attacked by 26-year-old failed Libyan asylum seeker Khairi Saadallah.
Three other people – Stephen Young, 51, Patrick Edwards, 29, and Nishit Nisudan, 34 – were also injured before Saadallah threw away the eight-inch knife and ran off, pursued by an off-duty police officer.
History teacher James Furlong, 36, scientist Dr David Wails (pictured, his family members), 49, and Joseph Ritchie-Bennett, 39, who worked for a pharmaceutical company, were murdered in Forbury Gardens on June 20 last year
The three friends had been enjoying a summer evening together as lockdown restrictions eased when they were attacked by 26-year-old failed Libyan asylum seeker Khairi Saadallah. Pictured: Families of the victims lay flowers down at a memorial
Three other people – Stephen Young, 51, Patrick Edwards, 29, and Nishit Nisudan, 34 – were also injured before Saadallah threw away the eight-inch knife and ran off, pursued by an off-duty police officer. Pictured: People at the memorial today
Asylum seeker Khairi Saadallah, 26, avoided deportation from the UK for more than seven years as he steadily racked up violent convictions before committing the atrocity last summer
Khairi Saadallah, 26, shouted ‘Allahu akhbar’ as he fatally stabbed three friends in June 2020
Saadallah was handed a whole-life sentence in January after he pleaded guilty to three murders and three attempted murders.
He avoided deportation from the UK for more than seven years as he steadily racked up violent convictions before committing the atrocity last summer.
Speaking after Saadallah was handed a whole life order at the Old Bailey, James’ father Gary Furlong said: ‘On the facts of this case, there are now serious questions that need answering, most notably, how the killer was ever in a position to commit these horrific acts.
‘Seeking asylum here in 2012 he has obtained a litany of criminal convictions, including assaults on the public, police, and emergency services, along with carrying a bladed weapon.
‘Whilst in prison it was decided by the Secretary of State on June, 4 2020, just two weeks prior to the attack, that his deportation was in the public interest but for legal reasons it could not happen.
Wreaths of flowers with pictures of the three victims are placed at the head of the memorial today
Family and friends place roses down at a memorial for the victims today
The families of the three victims hug each other during today’s memorial
‘Despite his criminal history and threats made before the attack, he was then released back into society immediately and was freely able to commit this horrendous act on the public.’
A year on, the victims’ loved ones, members of the emergency services who responded on the day and representatives from different elements of Reading’s community are invited to a memorial service.
The service was led by Cllr David Stevens, Mayor of Reading, and will include tributes to the victims and readings, followed by the laying of floral tributes at the Forbury Bandstand.
The jihadist killer targeted the victims as they enjoyed the sunshine at Forbury Gardens after the first Covid lockdown restrictions were eased.
People attend a memorial service at Forbury Gardens bandstand in Reading to mark the one year anniversary of the terror attack
Photographs of victims David Wails, James Furlong and Joe Ritchie Bennett displayed at a memorial service at Forbury Gardens bandstand in Reading
People comfort each other during the memorial service today
His deadly rampage was likened to a game of ‘duck, duck goose’ by a witness as he ran around trying to kill ‘as many people as he could,’ the Old Bailey heard.
Saadallah was ‘intent on killing as many people as he could’, say police
Following sentencing, Thames Valley Police Detective Chief Superintendent Kath Barnes, head of Counter Terrorism Policing South East, said: ‘Saadallah is a committed jihadist and was intent on killing as many people as he could on that sunny summer’s evening in June.
‘As the evidence has shown, Saadallah planned this attack in meticulous detail. The men he killed were not just murdered, they were executed at such a speed, they had very little chance to react or defend themselves.
‘The horrors of this incident took just a single minute to unfold. It took him less than 10 seconds to kill three innocent men, and he then went on to attack and tried to kill another three men before running off towards the town centre.
‘In that tiny timeframe, he changed the lives of all those involved forever.
‘He has caused unspeakable hurt and distress to the families of the three men who were brutally murdered as they were relaxing and enjoying socialising with friends on a Saturday evening.
‘I’m sure there will also be lasting effects on those who were injured in the attack, who were fortunate not to have been even more seriously harmed.’
Saadallah served as a ‘proud’ soldier of Libyan terror cult Ansar Al Sharia during the country’s civil war before fleeing Tripoli for the UK in 2012.
He was known to the Home Office as a violent offender and was freed from HMP Bullingdon, where he befriended notorious hate preacher Omar Brooks, 15 days before the murders.
On June 4 he had received a letter from the Secretary of State stating he would be deported for ‘the public good.’
Saadallah then set about plotting his murderous spree, carrying out reconnaissance on the park and buying a Huawei phone in addition to his probation handset.
Data recovered from the device after the atrocity showed he had been using it to browse YouTube videos of Jihadi John and search the internet for information about extremist ideology.
Images accessed through Facebook also revealed him posing in military fatigues and flaunting guns while he fought in the civil war.
Saadallah admitted murder and attempted murder but submitted a basis of plea, denying he had been motivated by extremist beliefs or put significant planning into the attack.
But after a two-day hearing held to determine the facts, his claims were rejected by Mr Justice Sweeney today, who ruled he had been ‘advancing’ his terrorist cause.
Saadallah was seen running up to victims and ‘hugging’ them from behind while stabbing them in the neck.
Horrific CCTV footage from a nearby churchyard shows him charging at the groups of park-goers before running out of the park and disposing of the knife.
In a craven bid to ‘blend in with the crowd’ of people he had just stabbed, Saadallah cut his own arm with a razor blade before he was spotted and chased by a group of brave witnesses.
Heroic members of the public, including an off-duty policeman who saw the attack, pursued the killer through central Reading before he was tackled to the ground by officers.
Saadallah told officers: ‘I killed those c**ts, what are you waiting for?’ after his arrest, the court heard.
In vile comments made to police after he was taken to the station, Saadallah called the murder victims ‘wronguns’ and said they ‘deserved’ to die.
After initially pretending to have been targeted in a robbery, the terrorist made a series of chilling remarks when he was in custody.
Despite having been deemed mentally fit for questioning, Saadallah barked ‘like a dog’ and started doing press-ups in front of officers before admitting the attack during his interview.
Boasting that he believed he was going to ‘paradise’ for the killings, Saadallah paced his cell repeatedly announcing that he was going to plead guilty while police outside took note.
He refused to sign the comments on record unless he was given a cigarette and instead began shouting about ‘magic’ in a desperate bid to appear ‘mad,’ the court heard.
But psychiatrists who assessed him at Belmarsh Prison confirmed there were no signs of a major mental illness.
He later made the following unsolicited comments: ‘Tell them I want to plead guilty to the jihad that I done and go to court tomorrow.’