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Reading knife attacker pleads guilty to murder of three gay men

Reading knife attacker pleads guilty to murder of three gay men

  • Khairi Saadallah, 26, admits the killings but denies his motive was terror.
Khairi Saadallah.

A man has admitted murdering three gay men in a stabbing attack in Reading, England and now faces life in prison.

Libyan refugee Khairi Saadallah, 26, attacked a group of friends in Forbury Gardens in the town center just before 7pm on Saturday 20 June.

Within a matter of two minutes, he had murdered three gay men James Furlong, 36, Joseph Ritchie-Bennett, 39, and David Wails, 49. He also attempted to murder three others – Stephen Young, Patrick Edwards and Nishit Nisudan.

Witnesses say he shouted ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is great) during the savage attack.

He was due to face trial on three counts of murder and three of attempted murder next month.

However, at a hearing on Wednesday, Saadallah pleaded guilty to the charges.

Judge to rule on terror motivation

Saadallah appeared at the Old Bailey – London’s senior criminal court – for the hearing. He wore a red and white beany hat, a grey jacket and a face mask.

Members of the victims’ families also attended court for the hearing.

Defence lawyers submitted guilty pleas. But they argued Saadallah had not planned or prepared for the attack in any substantial way and that he wasn’t motivated by ideology.

As a result, Judge Mr Justice Sweeney has scheduled a special ‘Newton’ hearing. In that hearing, he will listen to arguments from both the prosecutors – who argue the attack was an act of terrorism – and the defence lawyers before ruling on Saadallah’s motivation.

Police have already said that Saadallah, from Basingstoke Road, Reading, purchased a large kitchen knife and a pair of gloves in a Morrisons supermarket in Reading just a day before the attack.

Experts have also assessed him for mental health issues but say he is fit to stand trial.

Originally from Tripoli, Libya, Saadallah had been involved with groups fighting in the Libyan civil war.

He moved to the UK in 2012 and won asylum in 2018.

However, he also had convictions for violence, criminal damage and possession of bladed articles. The offences were between June 2014 and August 2019.

Moreover, security agency MI5 assessed him in 2019 over concerns he may wish to travel abroad for terrorist purposes. But they concluded he was not a genuine threat or immediate risk.

‘True gentlemen’

Joe Ritchie-Bennet, David Wails and James Furlong
Joe Ritchie-Bennet, David Wails and James Furlong were in a Reading park before being killed in the terror attack. Facebook

All three of the dead men were regulars at the Blagrave Arms, a gay-friendly pub near Forbury Gardens, and supporters of Reading Pride. After the attack, friends praised them as ‘true gentlemen’.

Prosecutors say Saadallah attacked them ‘without warning’ and ‘in rapid succession’ causing ‘catastropic and fatal injuries’.

Joe Ritchie-Bennett was from the US city of Philadelphia. He had been living in the UK for 15 years, working for a Dutch pharmaceutical company in Reading.

He had lost his husband, Ian, aged 32, in December 2014 after a short battle with colon cancer. The pair had been married for eight years.

After his death, Sean Clothier, a friend from his school swim team said: ‘Joe was everything that was good about our team.’

Meanwhile James Furlong was originally from Liverpool, northwest England. He was a popular teacher at The Holt School in Wokingham – a town on the outskirts of Reading – where colleagues said he was ‘inspirational’.

The school’s co-headteachers described him as a ‘very kind and gentle man’ who cared deeply for his students.

Finally scientist David Wails had moved to Reading to work for Johnson Matthey after gaining his PhD in York. Much of his career focused on using science for cleaner energy.

Friends praised him as a ‘kind, gentle, wonderful soul’ who loved beer and banter.