Fishmongers’ Hall hero haunted by flashbacks 2 years after London Bridge terror attack



When John Crilly saw a bomb had gone off outside Liverpool Women’s Hospital on Remembrance Sunday, his thoughts went immediately to the hero cab driver David Perry.

“It set me off if I’m honest,” he says. “Flashbacks to London Bridge. I get them all the time seeing people dead, and I just burst out crying. It can be loud noises, things on the telly, the Liverpool bomb. Visual things. I need someone to go into my head and stop them.”

It’s two years on Monday since John Crilly became a hero, just for one day.

He was attending an ex-offenders education conference in Fishmonger Hall in London, when one of the other attendees began stabbing people with knives attached to each wrist. Usman Khan opened his coat to reveal he was wearing a suicide vest, which he threatened to detonate.

The terrorist was confronted by Darryn Frost, Steve Gallant and John Crilly on London Bridge
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Images of John turning a fire extinguisher on Khan on London Bridge – while another attendee chased him with a Narwhal tusk grabbed from a wall and a third man tried to grab him – went viral all over the world.

Incredibly, he had the presence of mind to think that by spraying him with the hydrant he might be able to soak the suicide belt and short-circuit it.

Khan’s terror attack ended when John and others jumped on Khan, still believing his suicide vest was about to detonate on one of London’s busiest bridges. The Jihadi was then shot dead by police, and his suicide belt revealed to be fake.

“That first day we were heroes,” John remembers. “Then by day two we were murderers.”

John was attending the conference because he has a previous conviction for manslaughter, after a burglary when he was a young man addicted to drugs, went wrong.

Steven Gallant, who also tackled Khan and helped end the killing spree, was on day release from a sentence for murder.

“The reaction afterwards showed the narrative never changes,” John says. “No matter how many times I said, ‘I’m not a murderer’, it never made any difference.”

Terrorist Usman Khan
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The third man on the bridge was Darryn Frost, a communications officer in the Ministry of Justice, who chased Khan with a 5ft ornamental Narwhal Tusk grabbed from the wall.

John says they all keep in touch in a Whatsapp group as they struggle to deal with the aftermath.

With the death of Khan’s two victims, John lost his friend Jack Merritt and he witnessed Saskia Jones’ murder.

He had been in the team that collected Khan from his train station that morning, a man sweating in a huge coat. He fought with Khan using a wooden lectern, a heavy chair and eventually the fire hydrant.

“I started spraying him and at first it seemed to do the job,” he told me at the time. “I was spraying it in his eyes. He was all covered in foam and then he came bursting through it again with the knives.”

Two years on, John says he barely sleeps and has frequent flashbacks to seeing Saskia fatally wounded by Khan. “I can’t eat,” he says.

“It’s hard for me to feel positive about anything. I was never a great sleeper, but it’s got a lot worse.” For someone in recovery, this is a dangerous path. “I’ve been finding it hard not to relapse since Fishmongers Hall,” John says. “It’s a form of self-harm really.”

John has been hurt and angered by the multiple failings revealed during the inquest into Jack Merritt and Saskia’s deaths. Liverpool, he says, proves nothing has changed. “Where’s the lessons been learned when you see what happened in Liverpool?

“I’m used to errors in the justice system, but the errors that came out in the inquest from every department, were mind-blowing. How much they missed was madness.

Jack Merritt died in the attack
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“I can’t get my head around it. They just all thought some other department will do it. The errors were ridiculous.”

Meanwhile, he says he and Steve have been treated differently to the others there on that day. “Everyone apart from me and Steve that I’ve spoken to have got criminal compensation, but we can’t because of our criminal records. Apparently, you become a member of society again after prison, but that hasn’t happened to us.”

Last month, John, Darryn and Steven were given Police High Commendations for Bravery, with Cressida Dick praising his “selfless heroism”, but he says he couldn’t bring himself to shake her hand.

“I didn’t even want to go after everything that came out at the inquest,” John says. “Cressida Dick put her hand, but I couldn’t take it. I said it was Covid but it’s because I blame the police. I’ve never had good experiences with the police to be honest. The first time I met a police officer when I was 12, he kicked the sh*t out of me. And a lot of things recently have put them in a bad light.”

A former heroin user, John had been part of a Manchester burglary in 2005, that went fatally wrong when his co-defendant killed Augustine Maduemezia, 71, with a single punch. It’s a day he deeply regrets.

Jack Merritt, the inspirational young man from Learning Together, had been critical to John turning his life around. They met when John was studying for a law degree in prison, and Jack was a law student visiting the jail. John became his prison mentor.

Saskia Jones was also a victim of the terror attack
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Jack had come to John’s graduation, and they became friends. “If I’d met Jack much earlier in my life, maybe things would have been different,” John told me after the murders.

Over the past two years, John has been supported by JENGbA (CRRCT), a charity already involved in his case before the attack. It campaigns on the controversial ‘Joint Enterprise laws’ that saw John convicted jointly for the crime of another person.

“JENGbA are there to pick me up and pull me along and my family’s on the phone, that gives me a bit of hope,” he says. “My eldest son came to the commendation ceremony. It’s something for them to be proud of, and there hasn’t been much.”

He also says he is in regular touch with Jack Merritt’s dad, sharing a meal with him before the commendation.

Steven Gallant was on day release at Fishmonger Hall, serving a 17-year sentence for the murder of ex-firefighter Barrie Jackson in Hull. His sentence was reduced by 10 months by the Justice Secretary Robert Buckland because of his bravery on London Bridge meaning he has now been released.

“I’ve got an appeal in with the Criminal Cases Review Commission,” John says. “I got an 18-year sentence for manslaughter, which lawyers believe was disproportionate. JENGbA have spoken to the Ministry of Justice about reducing my licence after what happened at Fishmongers Hall, but there’s been no decision in eight months.”

Meanwhile Jack Merritt’s family are bringing a claim under the Human Rights Act that states that “Usman Khan was a convicted terrorist under multi-agency public protection when he killed Jack and Saskia on 29 November 2019… These circumstances raise questions about the assessment and management of Usman Khan’s risk.”

John says he will mark Monday’s anniversary by take part in #CreatingWithJack on Instagram, an initiative set up by Jack’s parents. “I’m going to splash some paint about for a picture,” he says.

He will spend the day thinking about the two kind, inspirational young people who died that day. “Because he wins if you think anything other than positive thoughts about Jack and Saskia,” he says. “And Khan’s took enough”.

After the terror attack, David Merritt accused the government of using his son’s death to further their “agenda of hate”. Two years on, his son’s belief that people can change may have been betrayed by Khan but his faith in John Crilly has not.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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