The self-radicalised terrorist who murdered veteran MP Sir David Amess has been handed a rare whole-life tariff at the Old Bailey today and will die behind bars – arrogantly pursing his lips as he was told his fate.
Ali Harbi Ali, 26, was convicted of murder and preparing terrorist acts on Monday by jurors who spent just 18 minutes deliberating.
Prosecutors described the case as ‘overwhelming’, and Ali himself did not dispute much of the evidence, cockily gazing around from the dock when it was heard.
In a final act of arrogance he ‘specifically instructed’ his own lawyer not to address the judge in mitigation.
Mr Justice Sweeney said: ‘This is a murder that struck at the heart of democracy.
‘This was a murder carried out in revenge for Islamic State’s losses in Syria. The defendant has no remorse or shame, quite the reverse.’
He added of Sir David’s family: ‘This trial was forced on them by the defendant’s cowardly refusal to admit his guilt.’
Earlier a harrowing victim impact statement from Julie Cushion, one of Sir David’s staff members who witnessed his murder, said: ‘I can’t get the perpetrator’s face, as he was led away, out of my mind.
‘He looked so smug, and so self satisfied.’
Ali Harbi Ali (seen after his arrest) told jurors at the Old Bailey he wanted to ‘make hijrah’, to travel and fight in support of the terrorist organisation Islamic State, but he found it too difficult to get there
Islamic State fanatic Ali Harbi Ali, 26, seen in a mugshot released (left) and in a sketch from court, right – where he refused to stand up while hearing his verdict for ‘religious reasons’
The 26-year-old stabbed Sir David more than 20 times with a foot-long carving knife at Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex
The desk at Belfairs Methodist Churchm where Sir David Amess was holding a constituency surgery when he was killed
A letter from Mike Freer MP – who was one of Ali’s alternative targets – was also read revealing he and his staff are now wearing stab vests whenever they meet the public.
Michael Gov, who was also considered by the terrorist, said: ‘It’s put profound pressure on our lives. I’ve found the impact of losing David has been enormous.’
Far-right extremist Thomas Mair, who murdered Labour MP Jo Cox in 2016, is among the handful of prisoners in England and Wales subject to a whole-life order, while ex-Pc Wayne Couzens was also handed a whole-life term last year after raping and murdering Sarah Everard in south London.
Max Hill QC, Director of Public Prosecutions, said Ali’s was an ‘exceptionally serious case’ but refused to be drawn on whether he should receive the same sentence as Mair.
He said: ‘I have no doubt that this individual will receive his just deserts for the consequences of what he has done.’
He added: ‘We were in no hesitation that this was an act of terrorism, just as was the case in the tragic murder of Jo Cox.’
Ali will nevertheless receive a life sentence, with the judge deciding whether to lock him up for the rest of his life, or set a minimum time he must serve in prison before being eligible for parole.
Ali captured on CCTV walking around the gates of the Houses of Parliament on September 22 last year – around a month before the fatal stabbing of Sir David Amess in Essex
Ali walking along Whitehall, (left) and near to Portcullis House (right) on CCTV footage released by police
Handout photo issued by Metropolitan Police of one of Ali Harbi Ali’s mobile phones used to plot the terrorist attack
The black backpack worn by Ali Harbi Ali and found at Belfairs Methodist Church where he murdered MP David Amess
Whole life orders: the brutal killers given UK’s rarest sentences
There are 60 criminals still alive who are serving whole life orders, according to government figures to the end of June. In total, 73 criminals have been sentenced to whole life terms.
Former Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens was handed one for the kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard.
Prisoners serving life sentences will never be considered for release, unless there are exceptional compassionate grounds to warrant it.
Milly Dowler’s killer Levi Bellfield is thought to be the only criminal in UK legal history to be serving two whole life orders – for her murder, the killings of Marsha McDonnell and Amelie Delagrange as well as the attempted murder of Kate Sheedy.
Other notorious criminals serving whole life orders include Gloucester serial killer Rose West, who is responsible for the deaths of ten women – many of them tortured and murdered with her husband Fred West, now dead, as an accomplice.
Rose West was later transferred to HMP New Hall in West Yorkshire in 2019, as rumours circulated about ill health and death threats.
Myra Hindley, who died aged 60 in 2002, was never released from prison despite her long campaign for parole, which was backed by prominent supporters including Francis, Pakenham, Earl of Longford.
Partner in crime, Ian Brady, spent 19 years in mainstream prisons before he was diagnosed as a psychopath in 1985 and moved to the high security Park Lane Hospital, now Ashworth Hospital, in Maghull, Merseyside.
Brady vowed to starve himself in 2012 and unsuccessfully applied to return to prison. He finally died at Ashworth Hospital in 2017 aged 79, after spending 52 years incarcerated.
Michael Adebolajo, one of Fusilier Lee Rigby’s killers, is also serving a life term without parole.
Other notorious lifers are Mark Bridger, 55, who abducted and murdered five-year-old April Jones in Powys, Wales, in 2012; neo-Nazi Thomas Mair who killed MP Jo Cox; Grindr serial killer Stephen Port; and most recently terror attacker Khairi Saadallah – who murdered three men in a park in Reading.
Before they died, Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe and doctor Harold Shipman – thought to be one of Britain’s most prolific serial killers – were also among those serving whole life orders.
In the past, home secretaries could issue whole life tariffs and these are now determined by judges.
The reforms would also allow judges to hand out the maximum sentence to 18 to 20-year-olds in exceptional cases, such as for acts of terrorism leading to mass loss of life.
It will also give judges the discretion, in exceptional circumstances, to impose a whole life order on offenders aged 18 or over but under 21.
Islamic State fanatic Ali carried out his attack at the backbench Conservative MP’s constituency surgery in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, on October 15 last year.
Ali told the trial he had no regrets about the murder, defending his actions by saying Sir David deserved to die because he had voted in Parliament for air strikes on Syria in 2014 and 2015.
The court heard that Ali became known to authorities around this time as his school performance plunged and he was referred to the Government’s Prevent strategy, but continued plotting in secret.
He had become self-radicalised in 2014, going on to drop out of university, abandoning ambitions for a career in medicine.
Ali, who came from an influential Somali family and said he had a childhood ‘full of love and care’, considered travelling to Syria to fight but by 2019 had opted for an attack in Britain.
He bought a £20 knife from Argos six years ago which he carried in his bag throughout summer 2021 as he ‘scoped out’ possible targets, jurors heard.
He carried out reconnaissance on the Houses of Parliament but found police there were ‘armed to the teeth’.
Ali researched MPs online including Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace.
He staked out the west London home of Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove six times and wrote detailed notes on how he might get to him.
Scenarios included mingling with media, bumping into him jogging, ringing his doorbell, and causing a scene to ‘lure’ him out.
Ali rejected the plan after Mr Gove split up with his wife and was thought to have moved out of the family home.
The attacker later told police: ‘It was… so convenient to go to that address but I just, I don’t know why I didn’t do that one.’
Ali, from Kentish Town, north London, was also spotted lurking outside Finchley MP Mike Freer’s constituency office, jurors were told.
By September last year, Ali had settled on Sir David as an easy target after seeing his upcoming surgery in Leigh-on-Sea on Twitter.
He made an appointment through the MP’s office, falsely claiming he was moving to the area and was interested in churches.
The so-called ‘lone wolf’ sent a manifesto on WhatsApp to family and friends seeking to justify his actions around the time of the attack, and told Sir David he was ‘sorry’ before plunging the knife into him, causing the politician to scream.
The Tory backbencher died at the scene.
Knife-wielding Ali was later apprehended by two police officers armed only with batons and spray.
They have since been handed bravery awards.
Essex Police Chief Superintendent Simon Anslow said this week: ‘They’ve basically gone in armed with a stick – something that appears smaller than a deodorant can – to deal with a man that has just committed an absolutely heinous act, still armed with that knife.
‘I think it’s an astounding act of bravery.’
Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle said MPs and political staff remain ‘traumatised’ by the atrocity, and continue to struggle amid fears for their security.
How Prevent failed to stop David Amess killer: Islamist ‘lone wolf’ Ali Harbi Ali was able to secretly plot his murderous act for years despite being referred to ‘politically-correct’ anti-terror programme
David Amess’s killer Ali Harbi Ali secretly plotted his murderous act of terrorism for years despite being referred to Prevent – in yet another failure for the controversial anti-terror programme.
The 26-year-old Londoner radicalised himself by consuming extremist material online before he fatally stabbed Conservative MP Sir David Amess.
The Met said Ali ‘spent some time’ in Prevent before coming out of it ‘by his own admission’.
A long overdue review of Prevent is currently being carried out by former Charity Commission chair William Shawcross. It has previously been criticised for a ‘politically correct’ focus on right-wing terrorism rather than its more dangerous Islamist equivalent.
Ali is the latest of a series of Islamist terrorists in recent years to have been referred to the government’s flagship anti-terror programme only to go on to carry out an attack.
Khairi Saadallah, 27, fatally stabbed friends James Furlong, 36, Dr David Wails, 49, and Joseph Ritchie-Bennett, 39, in a Reading park in June 2020.
Prevent officials were warned he could carry out a ‘London Bridge-style attack’, but he was assessed and found to have ‘no fixed ideology’, the Independent reported.
Another terrorist referred to Prevent was Sudesh Amman, who stabbed two people in Streatham, south London, last February. However, a panel decided his case did not require intervention.
Usman Khan, 28, who stabbed two young graduates to death after a prisoner rehabilitation event on London Bridge, had come into contact with Prevent officers who had ‘no specific training’ in handling terrorists, an inquest heard.
Parsons Green bomber Ahmed Hassan was also referred to the anti-terror scheme 20 months before he planted a device on the Tube that injured 50 people during rush hour in 2017.
Reading attacker Khairi Saadallah, 27, (left) was assessed by Prevent officials but found to have ‘no fixed ideology’, according to reports. Sudesh Amman, who stabbed two people in Streatham, south London, last February. However, a panel decided his case did not require intervention
Usman Khan, 28, (left) who stabbed two young graduates to death after a prisoner rehabilitation event on London Bridge, had come into contact with Prevent officers who had ‘no specific training’ in handling terrorists, an inquest heard. Parsons Green bomber Ahmed Hassan was also referred to the anti-terror scheme 20 months before he planted a device on the Tube that injured 50 people during rush hour in 2017
Professor Ian Acheson, Senior Advisor to the Counter Extremism Project, said today: ‘We know Ali had contact with Prevent services in 2016. The inquest to follow must be allowed to look into the performance of that system in forensic detail and see what can be done to improve it.
‘Far too many people who have contact with Prevent and our prisons go on to commit acts of heinous violence. We must do everything we can to turn these actions into ‘never’ events.
‘The worst thing we can possibly do now is think that the brutal slaying of David Amess by a man with a twisted ideology is just the price we pay for an open society.’
Recent attacks by Islamist terrorists who had been referred to Prevent
SOUTHEND – October 15, 2021: Tory MP Sir David Amess was fatally stabbed outside Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea near Southend while attending a constituency surgery. Ali Harbi Ali, 26, was referred to Prevent seven years ago.
READING – June 20, 2020: Khairi Saadallah, 27, fatally stabbed friends James Furlong, 36, Dr David Wails, 49, and Joseph Ritchie-Bennett, 39, in a knife attack at a town centre park. He later admitted the murders and was sentenced to a whole life order in prison. The Reading Refugee Support Group warned Prevent officials he could carry out a ‘London Bridge-style attack’. However, he was found to not have a ‘fixed ideology, the Independent reported.
STREATHAM – February 2, 2020: Sudesh Amman was shot dead by police after stabbing two people on a busy street in the south London area of Streatham while wearing a fake suicide vest. He was referred to Prevent but the panel decided his case did not require intervention.
LONDON BRIDGE – November 29, 2019: Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23, were stabbed to death by Usman Khan, 28, at a prisoner rehabilitation event. A man and two women were also injured before Khan, who was released from prison on licence in December 2018, was shot dead by armed officers on the bridge. An inquest heard his Prevent officers had ‘no specific training’ in handling terrorists.
PARSONS GREEN – September 15, 2017: Ahmed Hassan’s homemade bomb partially exploded on a London Underground rush hour train, injuring more than 50 people. He was sentenced to life with a minimum jail term of 34 years. He was referred to Prevent 20 months before he planted the bomb.
A long overdue review of Prevent is currently being carried out by former Charity Commission chair William Shawcross
It is expected to conclude that the programme is being undermined by activists who are opposed to its very existence being allowed to decide if individuals need to be deradicalised.
Some authorities in the southeast of England have even appointed Prevent coordinators who are against the strategy entirely, sources told the Times.
Sir William is set to call on the Home Office to appoint Prevent coordinators directly rather than leaving it down to local councils.
Prevent officials have also being accused of diverting too many resources towards suspected far-right extremists despite Islamist radicals posing a ‘far greater threat’.
Ian Acheson, a former prison governor and senior adviser at the Counter Extremism Project, said the official narrative that the far-right is the fastest growing threat is a ‘comfort blanket’ obscuring the ‘patently more potent threat of Islamist extremism’.
‘The body count does not lie,’ he said.
Following his conviction, Detective Chief Superintendent Dominic Murphy, said Ali had been involved with the Prevent deradicalisation programme in 2014.
He said: ‘By Ali’s own admission, and through our thorough investigation, we’ve identified that Ali was subject to Prevent in 2014.
‘He spent some time in Prevent and then came out of Prevent and by his own admission, carried on his activity in secret over many years, forming his plan and conducting reconnaissance and focusing his efforts on many MPs.
‘We say he was the true example of a committed terrorist and exactly the type of people that we should be focusing our efforts on.’
Mr Murphy said Ali did not engage with anyone else as part of the plot and conducted the attack entirely alone.
‘By his own admission, he spent an awful lot of time on the internet as part of his radicalisation journey and his research into conducting this attack,’ he said.
Mr Murphy, from the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command, declined to speculate on whether there were any missed opportunities to stop Ali.
He said the issue would be examined in more depth at any future inquest into the death Sir David.