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High Court

Pre-inquest review into deaths of Reading Forbury Gardens terror attack victims

A second Pre-Inquest Review (PIR) hearing has been held in the inquests into the deaths of the Reading Forbury Gardens terror attack victims James Furlong, 36, Dr David Wails, 49, and Joseph Ritchie-Bennett, 39.

Posted on 07 June 2023

The three men, whose families are represented by Leigh Day, were murdered by Khairi Saadallah on 20 June 2020. Saadallah was convicted of their murders in January 2021.

The full inquest into the deaths has been listed for six weeks in January 2024. It has not yet determined if it will be an Article 2 inquest. The Rt Hon Sir Adrian Fulford PC KC has taken over as Judge Coroner for the remainder of the proceedings.

The PIR hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice on Monday 5 June 2023, focused on the scope of the inquest and which experts should be instructed to prepare evidence for the final hearings.

The Judge Coroner also heard that the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) wished to be granted Interested Person status in the inquests.

Counsel to the Inquest, Nicholas Moss KC, said Saadallah had been charged by Reading police in July 2019 with being drunk and disorderly, destroying or damaging property, and assault of an emergency worker. Home Office staff emailed Thames Valley Police on 28 May 2020 stating that they had planned to deport Saadallah but were unable to do so “until the charges had been dealt with”. At the same time, the Home Office had been preparing submissions that it was not possible to deport Saadallah to Libya due to country conditions at the time.

Saadallah was due to face the charges in court in July 2020, but the CPS dropped the charges on 1 June 2020, three weeks before the murderous attack on 20 June. The charges were dropped due to what may have been a misunderstanding or miscommunication between the Home Office and the CPS, said Mr Moss.

On scope, the families agreed that the hearings should focus on 2019/2020, but said the Judge Coroner’s investigation should not be limited to this period if there were significant matters of concern before that time. They pointed to Saadallah’s links to Ansar al-Sharia and how these were assessed, intelligence reports from his periods in prison, his history with the Home Office and granting of five years’ discretionary leave to remain in 2018, and earlier decisions of the Crown Prosecution Service to discontinue other charges against him.

The Judge Coroner told the court that “no relevant stone will be left unturned” during the inquest.

The three men’s families are all represented by senior associate solicitor Fiona Huddleston, partner Benjamin Burrows, and associate solicitor Lily Hedgman.

On behalf of the families of James, David and Joseph, Gary Furlong read out a statement following the hearing. He said:

“The families wish to thank His Honour Martyn Zeidman KC for the care and humanity he showed when conducting these inquests as Judge Coroner.

“Our principal wish remains that lessons may be learned, and effective measures put in place to prevent others suffering the tragedy that we have endured.

“To achieve this aim, we know that any failings that caused or contributed to the deaths of James, Joseph and David must be identified. We trust that everyone else involved in this inquest process will work tirelessly towards that same goal, so that the events that led to the deaths of our beloved James, David and Joseph will not be repeated.”

Leigh Day senior associate solicitor Fiona Huddleston said:

“As we approach the three-year anniversary of the deaths of James, Joseph and David the families remain steadfast in their resolve to ensure that lessons are learned to prevent such a tragedy from happening again. The families are grateful to The Rt Hon Sir Adrian Fulford PC KC for stepping and confirming the focus on preventability. We trust that he will carry out a full and fearless investigation into the circumstances of the attacks, in particular as to the information held by state agencies about Saadallah and how that was managed.”

Leigh Day partner Benjamin Burrows said:

“The application by the Crown Prosecution Service to be an Interested Party is welcomed by the families, as there appear to be matters relating to the handling of charges against Saadallah and communication between the Home Office and the CPS that need to be put under the scrutiny of the court. The families are concerned that there are questions to answer in the period before 2019, when Saadallah was in contact with various state bodies, and we trust that these too will be examined closely.”

The families are represented by Fiona Huddleston, Benjamin Burrows and Lily Hedgman of Leigh Day. Counsel for the families is Peter Skelton KC and Matthew Hill of 1 Crown Office Row.


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Fiona Huddleston

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