MI5 spy denies agency was 'seriously unwise' to consider closing investigation into London Bridge terrorist

Eight people were killed when Khuram Butt, Rachid Redouane and Youssef Zaghba launched their van and knife attack 
Eight people were killed when Khuram Butt, Rachid Redouane and Youssef Zaghba launched their van and knife attack 

A spy chief yesterday denied MI5 was “seriously unwise” to consider closing an investigation into one of the London Bridge attackers just weeks before his murderous rampage.

The Security Services were monitoring Khuram Butt from mid-2015 until the point he and two accomplices killed eight people in a knife and van attack on June 3 2017.

The 27-year-old was subject to “extensive coverage” by a covert surveillance team, but their work was twice suspended due to an unprecedented wave of terror plots, the Old Bailey heard.

Speaking anonymously at the inquests into the deaths of eight victims, a senior MI5 officer known only as Witness L said it was the most “alarming” period he had faced in three decades.

The first suspension of the investigation into Butt came in February 2016 following a spate of outrages in mainland Europe, followed by a month-long pause from March to May 2017.

The second suspension, covering the immediate wake of the Westminster Bridge terror attack, was justified due to "the unprecedented level of threat which we were facing and therefore the pressure on our resources", he claimed. 

London Bridge attacker Khuram Butt

Just days earlier, Butt was seen meeting with a group of men possibly including his two co-conspirators in what was seen as a “potentially significant” development. 

It was later discovered they may have been attempting to obtain a firearm. 

Jonathan Hough QC, counsel to the inquests, asked Witness L: “We know by this stage Khuram Butt originally had an aspiration to carry out an attack in the UK, he had later been assessed as possibly intending to travel to join Islamic State, he had a history of violence and extremist rhetoric, the latter of which had increased recently, he had not been working full-time for some months - so giving him more free time - and he had had a recent meeting which gave proper cause for concern.

“Against that background, can you answer this question: should we, the public, not be troubled that  an investigation into such a person could be suspended at that point in time?”

London Bridge terrorist attack (top row left to right) Christine Archibald, James McMullan, Alexandre Pigeard, Sebastien Belanger, (bottom row left to right) Kirsty Boden, Sara Zelenak, Xavier Thomas and Ignacio Echeverria 

The MI5 official said: “The public should not be troubled because we clearly needed to devote our resources to those even more significant threats than the one that he presented.”

However, by mid-May 2017, a closure plan was drawn up for the investigation into Butt after no intelligence was uncovered that he was planning to commit an attack. 

Mr Hough said: “It might be suggested that considering closure at this point was seriously unwise given all the risk factors we’ve addressed. If that was suggested, what would be your response?”

Witness L said: “My response would be that he had been subject to a considerable degree of investigation for a very long period of time. 

“In this case, and similar ones, we cannot keep investigations open forever just to see whether something turns up.”