The warriors of London Bridge

Those who risked death to subdue Usman Khan showed what real heroism looks like.

Tim Black

Tim Black

Topics Politics UK

It is just before two o’clock in the afternoon, on Friday 29 November. At Fishmongers’ Hall on London Bridge, Learning Together, a five-year-old prisoner-rehabilitation scheme, is holding a conference attended by prison staff, academics, criminal-justice campaigners and, crucially, former inmates. At that moment, a 28-year-old convicted terrorist called Usman Khan interrupts proceedings. He pulls out two knives and reveals a suicide vest, and starts making threats, before proceeding to stab five people as he makes his way out of one of the conference rooms.

James Ford is one of the first to intervene. A convicted murderer, he is out on day release. His first act is to perform CPR on Saskia Jones, one of the people stabbed by Khan. Sadly, it will be to no avail. Ford then pursues Khan.

John Crilly, a 48-year-old reformed ex-prisoner, is not in the same room as Khan. But he hears a high-pitched scream, and immediately heads towards its location. There he sees Khan, his bloodied knives and the suicide vest. Quickly realising what’s going on, he attacks Khan first with a lectern, and then takes a fire extinguisher off the wall.

At that moment, Crilly is joined by Darryn Frost, a civil servant at the ministry of justice. Hearing the commotion and then seeing Khan, Frost, like Crilly, arms himself with whatever is nearest at hand. This being a maritime building, that just happens to be a narwhal tusk. By this point Crilly is jettisoning the contents of the fire extinguisher at Kahn. As he put it later, ‘I was spraying it in [Khan’s] eyes… he can’t see and that gives the whale guy a chance to give him a poke’.

Elsewhere, another individual, another moment of decision. Lukasz Koczocik, a 38-year-old Polish man working as a kitchen porter in Fishmongers’ Hall, also hears the shouting and the screams. He doesn’t have to do anything. He could hide or even escape. But he doesn’t. He knows first aid, he knows he can help, so, arming himself with a metal pole, he, too, heads off to confront Khan.

In the ensuing melee, Crilly, Frost and now Koczocik find it tough going against a man armed with knives and wearing what looks like a set of explosives. Koczocik’s pole bounces off Khan’s suicide vest, allowing Khan to stab Koczocik’s left side. Khan is then heading towards the exit. Others working at Fishmongers’ Hall, including another kitchen porter, two women at the coat check, a doorman and a receptionist, all tried to stop him. But it’s no good. Khan manages to get out of Fishmongers’ Hall, pursued by Crilly, Frost, Ford and a couple of others. Eventually, they corner him on London Bridge itself.

More moments of decision. Thomas Gray and Stevie Hurst, two London tour guides, are driving north across London Bridge, when they see several men running after the knife-wielding Khan. As Gray puts it, they did ‘what any Londoner would do’ and jumped out of the car to help take Khan down.

Khan is eventually floored. Gray stamps on his wrist to try to release one of the knives. Khan is restrained but there is still the small matter of the suicide belt. As Crilly put it, ‘I was prepared probably to lose my life’.

We now know that the suicide belt was fake. But those confronting Khan did not have our knowledge. They had theirs. They all knew, profoundly and urgently, that they could die. That with the release of a trigger, or flick of a switch, Khan could snuff them out.

And here lies the heroism of those who confronted, pursued and ultimately subdued Kahn. They were prepared to die in the service of an ideal: to save the lives of others. They could have done otherwise. They could have chosen to look after themselves. They could have calculated that their interests were best served by fleeing. They could have decided that survival was the best course of action.

But this is what makes their actions just that little bit sublime. They weren’t thinking about merely surviving. They were thinking about the thing that makes life worth living – which is to risk everything, including one’s own life, in the service of an ideal.

Evolutionary psychologists and the like tend to think of human behaviour in terms of some natural biological law, some instinct of self-preservation, or some set of cognitive biases. Four weeks ago on London Bridge, we saw how threadbare such theories are. In each moment, there was no law determining these individuals’ actions. There were just individual moments in which they acted freely. In which they rose to the moral occasion. The moment when Crilly responded to the scream. The moment when Frost seized a narwhal tusk from the wall. The moment when Gray and Hurst stopped the car and ran over to help.

Their heroism speaks to something we should all value: moral autonomy. The freedom, that is, to act according to one’s own judgement. To act according to what one judges right, rather than merely sensible or economic.

They are heroes, certainly. But they are not demi-gods. Far from it. Their lives will be as knotted with moments of weakness as anybody else’s. More so, in fact. Crilly was convicted of murder under the joint-enterprise law after his friend killed a man during a burglary. And Ford is serving a life sentence for slashing the throat of a woman with the mental age of 15. Her aunt has understandably bristled at Ford’s unwitting celebrity, saying ‘he is not a hero, he’s a murderer’.

But that is the other aspect to their heroism. It did not emerge from nowhere. It has been prepared by their willingness to regret, feel remorse, and to resolve to think and act differently. And, of course, this has been cultivated by others, such as the London Bridge victims and charity workers Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones, who always believed in prisoner rehabilitation. In many ways, the heroism of Crilly, Ford and another ex-prisoner, Marc Conway, is a tribute to the work and conviction of those, like Jones, Merritt and their colleagues at Learning Together, who believe that people can change and rehabilitate themselves – if they really want to.

Which, of course, Khan himself did not. He was a convinced jihadist. He never felt any remorse for plotting to bomb the London Stock Exchange, because he never doubted he was right. His murderous Islamist zeal rendered rehabilitation impossible. But Khan is the terroristic exception to the rule. Crilly, Conway and others showed that people can change. Moreover, all involved, from the kitchen porters to the receptionist, showed that one can act freely and morally and seize the moment – or, indeed, a narwhal tusk. Let’s have more such citizen action in 2020.

Tim Black is a spiked columnist.

Picture by: Getty.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.


Snake Oil Pussy

14th January 2020 at 9:58 pm

Spiked has told Lukasz Koczocik 17.4 million times that he is not wanted and not welcome in the UK.

Number VI

28th December 2019 at 12:08 pm

It should not go unnoticed that those who are responsible for stopping Khan’s rampage here were (or appear to be) ordinary people, while Khan’s victims – who do double-duty in this story as the root cause of the whole debacle – were near-stereotypical pontificating members of the elite.

I have no sympathy at all for Jack Merritt, Saskia Jones or their enabling families, particularly Merritt senior with his doubling-down on the sort of foolish, utopian, self-destructive waffle spouted by his son. If any positive is to be taken from this, it’s the fact that the only people who lost their lives were those whose naive beliefs and childish, zealous, insistence that by dint of their “education” and societal position, they are 100% correct about all things at all times lead to the likes of Khan being free to roam the streets. The world does not need any more Jack Merritts. There are too many of them already and they serve no purpose except to make the world a worse and more dangerous place. There is no redeeming the likes of Khan or Shamima Begum and even if there is the tiniest chink of a possibility of doing so, it is not worth the risk. At best, Khan should have been kept in a secure unit for the rest of his natural life, locked away from the public at large.

This is not the first time it has fallen to men in the street to clean up mess created by the whims of the so-called cultural elites. It won’t be, of course, but it would be nice if it were the last.

Claire D

27th December 2019 at 3:42 pm

There is a fundamental difference between ex – criminals and ideologically driven zealots. It was/is an incredible mistake to mix up criminality with terrorism. Perhaps we need a completely separate institution to contain terrorists safely. And good people like Jack and Saskia, involved in helping prisoners, need to recognise and understand terrorists are completely different and far less able to change, never mind willing to change.

Claire D

27th December 2019 at 3:53 pm

There is a long history of ex-criminals showing great courage on the battlefield in war. A relative of mine who was a doctor in WWI, met quite a few including a safe-breaker who returned to his favourite occupation straight after the war. I think there is probably a good argument to be made that some criminal behaviour is misdirected courage and daring, not all by any means, but some.

Paul Ilott

27th December 2019 at 2:14 pm

Unfortunately, finding meaning through sacrificing oneself for a higher cause is exactly what motivates the Islamist terrorist.

There are evolutionary explanations for altruistic behaviour too you know. They have all bases covered.

David Alanson

27th December 2019 at 1:28 pm

that’s the whole point – we can fight back against Islamic extremism and win.

steven brook

27th December 2019 at 12:53 pm

The official line is “run and hide” which sums up our limp, defeatist masters.

Gareth Hart

27th December 2019 at 9:08 am

This was an interesting read, until I got to the part about evolutionary psychology being considered pseudo-science and the insinuation of blank slatism that I expect from the enemies of liberty, free thought and science – ie. the identiarian authoritarian left wing PC brigade.

I await the well respected and accredited professors in their field to give a discussion on how bravery is not incompatible with evolutionary psychology.

Lisa Roy

27th December 2019 at 5:57 am

I am now making over $15k every month just by doing an easy job online from home using my laptop. Everybody can now get this and start making extra dollars online by just follow instructions on this website….c.

Mike Stallard

26th December 2019 at 7:15 am

There was a recent row in some village where a man was killing a woman. An elderly lady intervened with her walking stick and was simply dispatched to lie alongside the victim. Fighting is a skill and all the people who intervened were obviously very good at it – and that makes their intervention even more impressive.

jessica christon

25th December 2019 at 8:07 pm

I think it is no coincidence that the ‘do-gooders’ were the fatalities in this incident, while the men whose behaviour would otherwise have been labelled as “toxic masculinity” were the ones who put the kybosh on it. The uncomfortable truth is that James Ford’s inclination towards violence is neutral; regardless of whether the target of it is ‘derserved’ or ‘undeserved’, it seems like it is just a part of who he is.

This is why personally I’m not conflicted by hailing a ‘murderer’ as a ‘hero’ in another situation – come the hour come the man, as they say – but I’ve always felt there is a level of conflict and unease among Spiked and other media about this.


25th December 2019 at 6:15 pm

Some candidates for the new Year’s honours list there?

Perhaps I won’t hold my breath.

Danny Rees

25th December 2019 at 12:56 pm

And leftists would have these heroes all locked away for a racial hate crime.

Ven Oods

25th December 2019 at 9:27 am

The main problem with Khan, of course, is that he’d been freed to do what he did.
One hopes that those responsible for his being at large are undergoing a good dose of introspection.

Filbert Flange

25th December 2019 at 12:35 am

I wish all my brethren on the British isles a happy holiday season. What the hell am I saying! Merry Christmas me droogies! All the blessings I can muster are yours. Now back to your regular programming…

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