Counsellor ‘harassed mental health services to examine Reading terror attacker’

A counsellor “harassed” mental health services to examine the Reading terror attacker after struggling to get him help in the year before the killings, an inquest has heard.

Libyan refugee Khairi Saadallah fatally stabbed friends James Furlong, 36, Dr David Wails, 49, and Joseph Ritchie-Bennett, 39, on June 20 2020 in the town’s Forbury Gardens.

Three other people – Stephen Young, Patrick Edwards and Nishit Nisudan – were also injured before Saadallah threw away the 8ins (20cm) knife and ran off, pursued by an off-duty police officer.

Joe Ritchie-Bennett, James Furlong and David Wails
Joe Ritchie-Bennett, James Furlong and David Wails were killed in the attack (Family Handout/PA)

At the Old Bailey on Tuesday, the inquest heard a statement made by Michael Haynes who was a counsellor and advocate working with marginalised people in society, including Saadallah.

Mr Haynes made the statement in June 2020, when he was 72 years old, in which he described Saadallah as “the most difficult and demanding client I have had”.

The two met in July 2019 in Forbury Gardens and Mr Haynes helped Saadallah move into a new flat a week later.

Mr Haynes met him again on July 17 in Forbury Gardens after Saadallah had taken “a significant overdose and slashed his arm”.

The counsellor said he spent the whole week with his client after taking him to hospital.

“I contacted the mental health team but they continued to refuse to treat him due to his temper as he had kicked off in hospital on July 14, when he took the overdose as he recognised one of the nurses,” Mr Haynes said.

“I was struggling to get help for him.”

Forbury Gardens memorial service
A memorial service at Forbury Gardens bandstand in Reading to mark the anniversary of the terror attack (Steve Parsons/PA)

Mr Haynes told of a few incidents where he went down to police stations after Saadallah had been detained.

On July 26, Mr Haynes said he went to Reading Magistrates’ Court where Saadallah was appearing as a defendant and was invited by the bench to talk about him, resulting in Saadallah being granted bail.

“Four days later on July 30 2019, I told you that I was harassing the mental health team to at least examine Khairi to see what he needed, they kept coming up with this comorbidity thing,” Mr Haynes said.

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“I pressed and pressed them to get the alcohol services and mental health service together and I talked about this with…the probation officer.

“In the end they made an appointment with Iris, the local drugs and alcohol agency for a joint mental health and alcohol assessment.

“I talked to Khairi on the phone the night before and he didn’t want to go, he thought it was a waste of time. I told him he needed to go.”

The inquest heard how Mr Haynes went with Saadallah to the appointment but, after the counsellor was instructed to go outside, Saadallah left.

Forbury Gardens incident
Gary Furlong made a short statement to the media ahead of the inquest (Yui Mok/PA)

After going “ballistic” and running off, the police found Saadallah and sectioned him, the court heard.

Saadallah was jailed for 28 months after a trial in September 2019, which Mr Haynes attended.

The inquest heard that the two were in contact again when Saadallah left HMP Bullingdon on June 5 2020.

On June 17, Mr Haynes said Saadallah phoned him “in a bit of a state”, telling him “there were bad spirits in his flat and they won’t leave him alone”.

Three days later, on the day of the attacks, My Haynes said he got a phone call from Saadallah in the morning in which he was “a bit excitable but not as bad as he was”.

Saadallah texted later asking to borrow money and then phoned Mr Haynes at around 4pm for “just half a ring” before the call stopped, the inquest heard.

A statement made by Clare Champken, a former neighbour of Saadallah and his brother, was also read out in which she highlighted his mental health problems, divulged to her by the terror attacker’s brother.

Forbury Gardens memorial service
Members of the Furlong family comforting each other during a memorial service (Steve Parsons/PA)

Ms Champken also referenced an incident when men turned up to the car park at the back of the flats, calling the brothers “Muslim terrorists” after which Saadallah “ran out of the flat with a cricket bat” before being stopped by a neighbour.

The inquest heard she knew two of Saadallah’s victims through the local pub – Mr Ritchie-Bennett and Mr Furlong.

She said she knew Mr Ritchie-Bennett better, adding: “He was the loveliest guy you could meet, he always had a smile on his face and you would never see him get angry, he loved everyone he met, and everyone loved him, he would light up the room whenever he walked in the pub.”

Earlier on Tuesday, the inquest heard about delays in communications between police and the South Central Ambulance Service on the day of the attacks which prompted changes even though it had no “causative impact” on what happened that day.

In January 2021, Saadallah was handed a whole-life sentence at the Old Bailey after pleading guilty to three murders and three attempted murders.

The inquest was tasked with looking at the management of Saadallah while in prison and on probation, as well as his mental health, and the assessment and response to his risk of terrorism before the attacks.

The inquest continues on Wednesday.