Steve Gallant on his journey from murderer to hero
October 27, 2023. Series 7. Episode 75
If you pitched the story we discuss in this episode as a fictional film script you’d be laughed out of the room … so shocking, so unlikely is this tale of crisis.
In 2005 Steve Gallant was convicted of the brutal revenge murder of a man he claimed had attacked his then girlfriend.
After being sentenced to life in prison, with a minimum 17-year term, Steve made a vow to never again use violence.
He kept that vow for 14 and a half years until, on November 29th 2019, he was allowed out on day release for the first time to attend an educational event at Fishmonger’s Hall near London Bridge.
On that day Usman Khan, a former prisoner unleashed terror – killing two young graduates Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones.
Steve, along with two others, confronted Khan, who was wearing what turned out to be a fake suicide vest, and chased him out of the building, bizarrely using huge Narwhal tusks and a fire extinguisher. With no concern for their own safety, they took him down before armed police then ended his life.
The reaction to Steve’s incredible bravery was mixed. For some, including then PM Boris Johnson, he was lauded as a hero. But for others it raised questions about his rehabilitation … about whether his reactions on that day demonstrated a continued willingness to use violence.
Steve was eventually awarded the Queen’s Medal for Gallantry and granted a Royal Prerogative of Mercy, reducing his minimum term by 10 months.
He details his time in prison, essentially a story of change in the face of daily crisis, in his compelling new book The Road To London Bridge.
And in this conversation we explore his journey – from a difficult and violent childhood, through the shame of his appalling crime, his determination to change as he navigated his way through the prison system, to that day of truly astounding, instinctive bravery.
This is a crisis conversation unlike any we have had. My thanks to Steve for joining us.
Steve’s Crisis Comforts
1. Perspective – Knowing what you have and understanding there is always someone worse off than you.
2. Cup of tea – I love Yorkshire tea bags. You can’t beat it. Yorkshire Tea was a lifesaver in prison.
3. Exercise – Staying physically healthy helps the mind and in prison keeps the odd idiot at bay.
Stream/Buy ‘Allies’ by Some Velvet Morning: https://ampl.ink/qp6bm
Some Velvet Morning Website: www.somevelvetmorning.co.uk
Your Daily Practice: Sleep by Myndstream: https://open.spotify.com/track/5OX9XgJufFz9g63o2Dv2i5?si=b2f9397c92084682
Watch the documentary – London Bridge: Facing Terror https://www.channel4.com/programmes/london-bridge-facing-terror/on-demand/74280-001
Read Steve’s book – ‘The Road to London Bridge’ – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Road-London-Bridge-Steve-Gallant/dp/1399604856
Host: Andy Coulson
CWC production: Louise Difford and Jane Sankey
With special thanks to Global
For all PR and guest approaches please contact – [email protected]
Steve Gallant: [0:00:00] I just took him on, we just engaged. He’s seen me coming now, he’s swinging his knives, we’re going backwards and forwards, I’m just keeping my distance from him, and I managed to stab him with the narwhal tusk, I think I hit him in the chest. I remember saying to myself, “There’s people out there, there’s people out there on London Bridge who haven’t a clue of what’s just about to hit them.” I see these ladies walking towards him completely oblivious. I just thought, “I’d best delay.” So I shouted, “Get back, it’s a terrorist, get back, it’s a terrorist.”
Andy Coulson: [0:00:30] Welcome back to Crisis What Crisis, the podcast that aims to guide you towards a more resilient life and whatever it might throw at you. If this is your first time with us, then please hit subscribe wherever you’re watching or listening, it really does help make sure that these, I hope useful, conversations are shared as widely as possible.
Now, over the last few years we’ve been lucky enough to have guests who have shared their crisis stories from a range of different perspectives, as a result of war, terror, illness, accidents, trauma from events that have come out of a blue sky. Today’s conversation is with someone whose experience, well, if you dreamed it up for a film script, would be dismissed as too far-fetched, just too unlikely to be real.
In 2005, Steve Gallant was convicted of murder after carrying out a brutal revenge attack on a man, Barrie Jackson, who he claimed had assaulted his then girlfriend. He was given a life sentence with a minimum term of 17 years. Not long after being sentenced, Steve took a vow to never again use violence; a vow he somehow managed to keep as he navigated his way for the next decade and a half through the prison system. A system where random violence can come from anywhere at any time. Steve educated himself in prison, embracing pretty much every opportunity for rehabilitation and personal change that was offered.
One of those schemes was the Learning Together programme run by Cambridge University. On November 29th 2019 was given the chance to leave prison for the first time to attend a Learning Together event at Fishmongers’ Hall near London Bridge. His first day of freedom for fourteen and a half years.
Attending that event were 25-year-old Cambridge graduate Jack Merritt who had worked with Steve, Saskia Jones a 23-year-old volunteer, and Usman Khan who had been released from jail in 2018 halfway through a sixteen-year sentence for terrorism offences. During a break in the event, screams were heard. And against the advice of his prison escort, Steve headed downstairs to be confronted by Khan; two eight-inch knives strapped to his hands and wearing what looked to be a suicide vest. On the floor were two women, one of them Saskia Jones.
Steve, with the help of two others, John Crilly and Darryn Frost, eventually forced Khan out on to London Bridge and pursued him. Armed with a fire extinguisher and bizarrely two huge narwhal tusks that they’d pulled off the wall inside the building, they then cornered Khan, who continued to fight back. Steve wrestled him to the ground as armed police arrived, and after telling them that he had a bomb, Khan was shot dead.
Saskia Jones very sadly died as a result of her injuries, along with Jack Merritt who, unbeknown to Steve, had been stabbed and killed earlier in the attack.
The reaction to Steve’s heroic actions by the prison system was not straightforward. We’ll talk a bit about that. But he was granted eventually a Royal Prerogative of Mercy and a reduction in his sentence of ten months. And on September 28th this year, he received the Queen’s Gallantry Medal. He now works with newly released prisoners and is a fundraiser at the Howard League for Penal Reform.
Steve’s new book, The Road to London Bridge, is a compelling account of that terrible day, but also of his years spent in the prison system.
So this is a conversation about heroism, about terror, about managing crisis and managing guilt.
Steve Gallant, welcome to Crisis What Crisis, how are you?
Steve Gallant: [0:04:10] I’m great, thank you.
Andy Coulson: [0:04:11] It’s really great to have you with us and thank you for it.
Steve, as will become apparent as we talk through the detail of this story, what you and of course others experienced and did on that day is almost, as I touched on, almost beyond comprehension.
You went to Windsor Castle, you received the Queen’s Gallantry Medal for the part that you played. Tell me how receiving that award so soon after you left prison felt, Steve? Surreal, I imagine in some ways?
Steve Gallant: [0:04:47] It certainly felt special, there’s no two ways about that. To come from where I’ve been, taking somebody’s life, going on that journey through the prison system and seeing and witnessing violence and problems and restrictions and stigma attached, and in many cases rightly so, to prisoners, and then to find myself being awarded such a prestigious medal and an award, yes, of course it was special. It was a very powerful moment for me.
Andy Coulson: [0:05:20] Did you have your family with you?
Steve Gallant: [0:05:21] I invited my partner with me, my dad, and a lawyer who has supported me all the way. So yes, I had some close friends and family with me.
Andy Coulson: [0:05:31] So Steve, I’m going to ask you the question directly right upfront. You are undeniably a hero, right? It’s not a question, that’s a statement.
Steve Gallant: [0:05:45] Okay.
Andy Coulson: [0:05:45] You are undeniably a hero. The question, I suppose is, do you feel like one?
Steve Gallant: [0:05:49] No, of course not. I mean, what is a hero? I mean, heroes are different things to different people. Clearly what I did that day was a very brave thing and I think it’s obviously right that people should be recognised for those sort of things. But again going back to my past and stuff like that, I knew it was going to be a tricky and difficult thing for officials to do. But they did it and I’m pleased with that, I’m pleased they found the courage to say, “We’re going to recognise you and take any public flack with that.”
Andy Coulson: [0:06:18] Can you say you believe that that is an important moment of change really, for those who argue for rehabilitation, who argue for the opportunity for people to change?
Steve Gallant: [0:06:30] I do, because- I’ve said this before, I think the medal for me doesn’t just represent bravery, it represents change, the possibility of change. No matter where you’ve been in life and no matter what you’ve done, there’s always hope and if you work hard you can get there. So it represents change for me too, and I’d like to see that reflected right across the system. And almost a type of message to all those who are struggling. And not just in prison too, everyone faces their own struggles, it’s all relative. So there’s always hope.
Andy Coulson: [0:07:05] Steve, let’s go back to long before London Bridge. Tell me a little bit about your upbringing, because it was not straightforward. You end up in prison for a very long time, it wasn’t your first time in prison. Just give us a feel for your years as a child, as a teenager.
Steve Gallant: [0:07:28] So I was raised in East Hull, initially on an estate called Bransholme, one of Europe’s largest, I remember towns were quite tough even as a child, and violence was quite- just normal. Kids got hit and it was quite acceptable at that time. I think I suffered from an Attention Deficit as a child as well, so I misbehaved and I’d get clipped for it and stuff like that.
There was a lot of drugs in my area as well, growing up, but I never felt unloved, I always felt loved by my mother and my father. My father left, however, when I was very, very young, although we stayed in touch throughout my childhood, up to a certain point they was around and I felt loved. But at some point in my life, I think I was about nine years old, another man came into my life, who had quite poor problem-solving skills himself. So when I messed around, he would use violence.
Andy Coulson: [0:08:24] This is a stepfather?
Steve Gallant: [0:08:25] This is my stepfather yes, and he used violence to deal with me, and he was a big rugby player and his violence consisted of kicks, punches, slaps, and quite a tough, good hiding, you know, for a young kid to experience. And I didn’t know at the time, but that was having an impact on me and I was learning how to resolve issues myself through violence, because I didn’t know any better.
I thought it was normal to be hit, so I took that on to the streets and met like-minded kids who were similar to me. And it just became a normal way of life, getting into fights and resolving issues through violence.
Andy Coulson: [0:09:05] And you accumulated, as I understand it, a series of fairly small minor offences, but it did eventually lead to you being put into a young offenders institution, right?
Steve Gallant: [0:09:19] Yes, so I was given I think eight months, and I spent four and a half months in prison as a youth. I did a little bit of time on remand, I spent time at a school for naughty children, I went to detention centres, all these sorts of places where kids go when they’re messing around. Yes, and so that impacted my chances of finding employment, joining the Army and stuff like that, so it had an impact on me.
Andy Coulson: [0:09:43] That was your plan, was it, to join the Army?
Steve Gallant: [0:09:45] Well yes, I mean a lot of kids in that area did, that’s what they did, they’d apply for the Army and go off. But unfortunately I’d accumulated too many offences and so they just rejected me. And that probably would have been a nice route for me to take some of that risk-taking behaviour and channel it more constructively, but unfortunately it never happened.
Andy Coulson: [0:10:05] That’s interesting. We had Andy McNab on the podcast.
Steve Gallant: [0:10:07] Yes, I’ve seen.
Andy Coulson: [0:10:08] Who as a young lad got into a lot of trouble.
Steve Gallant: [0:10:12] He was fortunate.
Andy Coulson: [0:10:13] He was very explicit; Army absolutely saved his life.
Steve Gallant: [0:10:17] I feel that would have been the same for me but hey, that’s how it is.
Andy Coulson: [0:10:21] Steve, you set out the events that led to your murder conviction, you set them out in full in your book. It is unvarnished. I’m going to summarise very quickly. April 2005, as I touched on, you killed Barrie Jackson in an attack outside a pub. You describe the violence of your attack outside that pub viscerally in the book. As I say, you don’t try and paint it for anything other than what it was; a violent act of revenge that cost someone their life.
Just if you can Steve, just tell us now from this distance and with everything that’s followed that we’re going to discuss, when you think about that day, what immediately comes into mind? Or do you just try not to think about that day because you’ve thought about it enough?
Steve Gallant: [0:11:19] I’ve thought about it a lot and I still think about it and I think when you do something like that, you should think about, there’s no hiding from it. I believe 100% that nobody has the right to take the law into their own hands, and certainly not kill anybody. I mean look, if everyone did that, then society would be a complete mess, wouldn’t it?
But as I said earlier, those ideas that I was brought up around instilled me this idea that this was the way to deal with that situation using violence. So I understand that, I understand why I did it, but today I understand completely that violence is completely wrong and it’s why really, I’m against violence now. When I talk about it- in society, it doesn’t matter where it is, across the world, in society it’s a bad thing, it’s just a really bad way to resolve issues. And I think things can be much better resolved through communication and stuff like that.
Of course at that time, we did call the police, they’d not arrested him even though they knew who he was.
Andy Coulson: [0:12:21] After the attack against your girlfriend?
Steve Gallant: [0:12:22] Yes, this is after the attack on my girlfriend. And I quoted what the Superintendent said in the press about the chap whose life I’d taken, that he was an extremely violent and dangerous man, they knew what he was like. Yet for some reason they’d not arrested him. But that still doesn’t justify what I did. I could have made a decision at that point to walk away that night when I knew that he was in the pub. I could have walked away, of course I could have done, but for the circumstances which I explain in my book, I didn’t make that decision.
Andy Coulson: [0:12:50] You repeat the words of the judge, actually?
Steve Gallant: [0:12:52] Yes.
Andy Coulson: [0:12:54] Who said in your sentencing, “Saint or sinner, everyone has the right not to be killed in the way that that man was killed that night.”
Steve Gallant: [0:13:02] Yes, yes.
Andy Coulson: [0:13:04] It’s interesting to me that you chose to include those words in the book.
Steve Gallant: [0:13:06] Because I think it was really important that I did, because I had to close that element, that chapter, because I was resisting- I didn’t want to go to prison of course, I knew I’d taken somebody’s life and I was trying to minimise the impact. Self-preservation is a very powerful thing by the way, when you’re facing a sentence of life, potentially spend the rest of your life in prison, you could die in prison, it’s not normal to go, “Yeah, yeah, just throw me in there, do what you want to me.” So of course I wanted to minimise the impact of that. It was my belief that Barrie had attacked my partner, but it wasn’t proven in a court of law, so it was my allegation.
Andy Coulson: [0:13:39] That’s important to clarify.
Steve Gallant: [0:13:40] Yes. And I thought, do you know what, I had to- what is my real thought in this? How can I close this element properly? And those remarks from the judge I think were very important to recognise and accept nobody has the right to die in that manner, so that’s why I put it in there.
Andy Coulson: [0:14:00] Can I ask about the day of your conviction, your sentencing really? The first day of what you knew would be a very, very long sentence. Obviously you’d been on remand, you’d been in prison for a while then, but that first night back in the cell knowing you’re convicted, what do you remember of that night?
Steve Gallant: [0:14:24] Oddly enough there was almost a sense of relief. I felt that going through that trial, I was completely shattered, focusing on all the work I’d done to try and negate the impact of what was about to happen, but I was almost relieved that at least the trial was over. Because like I say in the book, it’s like a window into your soul. Everything about you is exposed. Your conversations, there’s loads of evidence there and there’s nothing you can do about it and everyone’s looking at it and analysing and it was in the press. And it’s just a horrible thing to go through Andy, you’ve experienced it yourself.
Andy Coulson: [0:14:57] Total lack of control.
Steve Gallant: [0:14:58] Total lack of control. It is horrible. So in one sense I was relieved that that part of my life was over. Of course, I still had this sentence. I would have gone to prison anyway because I would have accepted manslaughter at the very least so there was always going to be a prison sentence.
So again it was just about processing that and just sense of relief but thinking, “Well, you know what? You are where you are. You can potentially look at appealing, there’s some hope there, but it is what it is, you have taken someone’s life, just get on with it for now because you cannot remove yourself from that situation.” So I was quite accepting as well of my situation.
Andy Coulson: [0:15:34] Accepting quite quickly as well. From reading the book you seem to get to that point pretty quickly, Steve.
Steve Gallant: [0:15:42] It was within the twelve months after that that I think I came to that point, and one of the key reasons was because when I committed that offence alongside my co-defendant, prior to that I had these ideas that you don’t grass your mates up, you stick by your mates at all costs, and those values are quite deeply embedded in me. So when I was arrested- sorry, before I was arrested and I was on the run, once I’d heard that my co‑defendant had been arrested, I didn’t hesitate. I said, “Right, I’m going to hand myself in, I’ll take it on my toes.” So I did that.
And then a short while later I had realised that those people who I’d stuck by all my life and backed up were not quite what I thought they were. And some of them turned against me to cover their own arses and stuff like that. And I realised that from that experience I’d been living a lie, and while I’d prioritised my friends over the years they were nowhere to be seen, yet my family were there. So it was a big slap in the face to me and a big wake-up call.
And my partner too was, despite me going out on endless nights with my friends and leaving her at home or whatever, she was still there stood at the end. And I realised I’d made a big profound mistake in my life.
So for that reason and also for losing my partner, she left in the end and rightly so, because you can’t expect someone to hang around for seventeen years or longer, I thought, “Yes, I’ve messed up here. All the things I should have loved and respected have gone, now what have I got? And the people who I loved and respected are nowhere to be seen.”
So yes, I made a decision at that point that- well, in fact what I did was I looked at what was it that got me into this position in the first place? It was I guess my decision to use violence to resolve issues was a key part of that. And I thought, “Well, if I want to get through this in one piece, I need to reject that, I need to get rid of violence.” So I made a vow quite early on, this was shortly after my partner left, to not use violence again.
Andy Coulson: [0:17:52] I mean, the conclusions that you’ve just described, that you reached, could very easily have taken you to a much darker place. They could have taken you to despair, they could have taken you to the feeling that there’s nowhere to go. To a sort of total absence of hope and an inability to move forward, which happens to an awful lot of people in prison.
What is it that got you then, so we understand the backstory-
Steve Gallant: [0:18:25] What put me there?
Andy Coulson: [0:18:26] No, we understand the backstory that arguably put you there. What we don’t know is the backstory that allowed you to- what seems like a sort of flipping of a switch, this vow never to be involved in violence again and this vow of self-improvement. Which you demonstrate throughout the rest of the time in prison, which we’ll talk about briefly.
What is it about you Steve, because we’re always interested in this question on this podcast, what is it that kind of created that ability within you?
Steve Gallant: [0:19:02] Well it confused me at first because how had I made this profound mistake and got myself into this situation where I’d jumped over a cliff edge and regretted it seconds later? It was too late. But then I suddenly realised that what I did was so wrong that I could change my mind and never commit violence again. So I went off to analyse that.
Because I understood that I’d done it and I’d got myself in that position and made the decision, but I didn’t quite understand how and why, so my journey was understanding that. But looking back now, you’re right, a lot of people don’t make that decision.
Andy Coulson: [0:19:33] So what led you to? If you look back at your life now, what do you think, where did that come from?
Steve Gallant: [0:19:37] I think that some of those tougher elements of my life, although they sent me in the wrong direction, I think they also created a bit of resilience within me to help me overcome these types of challenges.
And going back a little bit further, I had a brilliant woman in my life who was my grandmother, and she used to take me on journeys and challenges and stuff like that, to the countryside and to the Lake District. And when I look back at that, she never said it but the experience themselves, I think she was instilling in me and my other siblings this idea that life’s tough, and you’ve got lots of challenges, and to get through them sometimes you have to make tough decisions and persevere. So I think some of that definitely played a role in why I decided at that point to look at this huge mountain in front of me and think, “You know what, I can get through this.”
Andy Coulson: [0:20:32] On one level this is a ridiculous question given the length of time involved, but Steve, tell me about your time in prison?
Steve Gallant: [0:20:40] So yes, what was that like? It was very, very challenging. Very challenging. When I first went to prison, I think resources were okay. Prisons weren’t great but compared to what they are now, they were okay. And when I went off to Frankland, although initially that was fine, there were some issues there in terms of violence which happened for a certain reason. Gartree Prison, when I got there, a Cat B, was well resourced and very settled, but during that period that I was in prison, yes, I saw a gang war break out in Frankland.
And I was also in HMP Gartree when there was a project implemented called Benchmarking, which saw a massive reduction in staff over that period that I was in Gartree. And once that happened, it was filled by extremists and gang members and violence then picked up again and really impacted the environment. So I witnessed that and went through all that.
And yes, it was a very, very tough time for me because I’d rejected violence myself, I didn’t want nothing more to do with it, and I saw how bad it was and yet I was witnessing around me violence and problems, and all these things that brought me to prison were just everywhere. And it just really sort of gave me a completely different perspective of this thing called violence.
Andy Coulson: [0:21:56] Some of these are moments- you describe it in the book, some of these are moments that just sort of explode in your environment, right? Some of it is confrontation directly at you, that you step back from and avoid?
Steve Gallant: [0:22:08] Yes.
Andy Coulson: [0:22:09] There are other instances where things are brewing, obviously the gang culture in prison, there’s a kind of invitation to be part of one group or another that comes with protection. You somehow navigated your way through all of this.
Steve Gallant: [0:22:24] I did and that’s because of that vow I made to not use violence and to educate myself. And part of my commitment was to learn; learn about myself, learn about my own psychology, educate myself and grow and I started to find enjoyment in that and reward. So while this stuff was going on around me I had this private space and this private objective which I had going on.
Andy Coulson: [0:22:48] You had a strategy.
Steve Gallant: [0:22:49] I had a strategy, yes. And a mindset as well.
Andy Coulson: [0:22:51] And a strategy that you knew you’d have to stay true to for the thick end of seventeen years?
Steve Gallant: [0:22:56] Yes, that’s right. And it wasn’t easy by the way, it was very, very challenging at times. Very challenging because it’s persistent, it’s almost every day.
Andy Coulson: [0:23:05] Okay, so for people who are listening to this who are involved in strategy in a very different way, because we’ve all got them in our lives, right, how did you stay true to it? What’s the voice in the head? What were you saying to yourself?
Steve Gallant: [0:23:20] I just stuck to that vow, I just said to myself, “You’ll get through this, you’ll get to the end.” I knew that if I’d have responded with violence, it would have been a huge step back for me. Because I was in prison for committing a serious crime, so for me to engage in violence it would have been just a really black cloud hanging over me. And it would have impacted my ability to move forward.
So what happened, when I was in Frankland and I steered through all that mess, when I got to the end of it and I realised I was moving on, I was reaping the benefits, I was reaping the rewards of that. So I thought, “You know what, this is benefitting me.” Resisting violence, resisting responding to people and educating myself and doing the right thing. I was seeing the benefits of that, so I was able to hold on to something to get me through that phase and then get to the next stage.
Because I guess you do things like that in stages and think, “Right, I’ve got a Cat A prison to get through here, I’ll do what I need to do here, then I’ll get to the next prison.” You break it down and that’s what I did do.
Andy Coulson: [0:24:19] So the system does set targets effectively, doesn’t it? There are doors that you can keep walking through if you tick the boxes, do the work, kind of stay on track, you clearly were very focused on that as well.
Steve could I ask you, during your stay in prison, the numbers of convictions for terrorism offences dramatically increased. You write about how that impacted the culture of prison, those gangs that were created, the kind of growth of extremism within the prison system. Given what we’re going to talk about later, just give me your view on that; how you saw that kind of develop, grow, turn into something that was dangerous then and still dangerous now?
Steve Gallant: [0:25:04] It was clear to me when certain individuals convicted of terrorist related offences were coming into the system and I was hearing the voices and the concerns and the prejudice, and some of it racism, from some of the prisoners, predominantly white prisoners who were already in Frankland, and what they were going to do and how that manifested into violence, initially against those convicted of terrorist related offences.
But more started to filter into the system and the balance of power started to change and they started to retaliate. And you could see it really created a lot of fear within the prison. Underlying that, it was obvious that this wasn’t only a problem for prison environments and for prisons trying to rehabilitate people, it could potentially flare up into a problem for society.
Because you had people who initially might have been doing it out of fear or whatever, converting into the Muslim faith and joining these gangs, but where were they going to end up? Because these are chaps sometimes who are easily led, have got no solid grounding in life, and you could see that some of them were really getting into it, and getting into certain types of literature and God knows what else and engaging in violence. And I thought, “Well, if you’re engaging in violence now against prisoners, what are you going to do when you get out?”
Andy Coulson: [0:26:31] So Steve, you had a long, hard stare at that as compared to my glimpse, my-
Steve Gallant: [0:26:38] Yes, yours was quite a soft landing. But I mean it’s still terrible, it’s all relative, isn’t it?
Andy Coulson: [0:26:42] Yes, I’m not sure I’d describe Belmarsh as a soft landing, I take your point.
Steve Gallant: [0:26:45] Oh, did you go to Belmarsh? Okay. I thought you were lucky and went straight to the open prison.
Andy Coulson: [0:26:52] But on this point, it seemed to me that there was just a sensitivity around it, right? The system didn’t really want to address it? I think that’s changed, I think now, I certainly read that it’s changed, I hope that it’s changed.
Steve Gallant: [0:27:05] I don’t know, I mean I’m so far away from there now, but certainly at the time- the reason why I’m sceptical is because it should have changed from Frankland, but then I saw it follow me into Gartree, and it still hadn’t changed, it was getting worse. But for staff it was difficult because they had been reducing numbers, so they were facing all sorts of other challenges anyway. But yes, it would be concerning to anyone that the lack of efforts to contain what was growing-
Andy Coulson: [0:27:33] Yes, this is an important part of the conversation, because obviously what we’re going to get to, there is one might argue a link you might- I’m interested to ask you whether you think that there is?
So let’s discuss November 29th 2019, Steve. You came out of prison that morning, first time that you’d come out of prison for fourteen and a half years. Travelled into London with your escort Adam,. Tell me about that, just that journey first of all?
Steve Gallant: [0:28:08] Yes. Well, you can imagine where I’d been all those years, but I was in an open prison at the time, HMP Spring Hill, but HMP Spring Hill, it’s full of sort of like chalets. They’re not very clean, there’s twenty men to each chalet, there’s two showers and you can imagine there’s dirt and grime up the walls and it’s horrendous. And then to go to London that day; the sun was shining, I felt this sense of freedom and just opportunity.
And I knew I was going to a nice place because who was going to be there. Imagine Fishmongers’ Hall, it’s a beautiful building. And I noticed the contrast between the wash facilities in the prison and in the Fishmongers’ Hall it was all sparkling and beautiful, but yet the prison was just horrendous. The contrast was just amazing, but I just said to myself, “Just enjoy your day, don’t get too excited because you know, just stay focused.”
Andy Coulson: [0:29:01] There’s still a long way to go.
Steve Gallant: [0:29:02] Yes, there’s a long way to go here. So I did.
Andy Coulson: [0:29:04] You spent some time that day with Jack Merritt, who you knew already, because Jack was part of the scheme that you’d been involved in for quite some time here. So you knew Jack reasonably well?
Steve Gallant: [0:29:14] I did, I’d known Jack for just over two years, maybe two and a half years, I’d met him first when he came into HMP Warren Hill with the Learning Together team.
Andy Coulson: [0:29:24] And Saskia? Had you met her before?
Steve Gallant: [0:29:26] I didn’t know Saskia Jones, no. I’d seen her flitting about but I didn’t know her personally.
Andy Coulson: [0:29:30] Yes, Usman Khan, you didn’t know?
Steve Gallant: [0:29:33] I didn’t know.
Andy Coulson: [0:29:34] But you heard him speak that morning, is that right?
Steve Gallant: [0:29:36] Yes.
Andy Coulson: [0:29:37] What did he say?
Steve Gallant: [0:29:40] There was a lady doing a talk on, I think it was to do with ideas and how things that people say in life when you’re young can affect you later on in life, so you call a kid stupid or something, they might grow up thinking they’re stupid or it might just affect them in some way.
And I think it was talking about ideas and if I recall rightly, Usman said something like- and he contributed, he contributed to this session, and he said something like, “Yes, I had friends who were thinking in a certain way and I told them that they were wrong to think that way.” And I thought, “Okay, maybe he was an ex-gang member or something like that, a prisoner, and he had some friends who were quite antisocial and now he’d changed his perspective and he was telling them that they’re wrong.” So I had quite a positive view of what he’d said.
Andy Coulson: [0:30:25] And then there’s a break in the day, you’re upstairs and you hear some screaming from downstairs. Just talk me through Steve, what happened next?
Steve Gallant: [0:30:41] So on hearing the screaming I was reluctant to go and investigate because I was told to stay there by Adam, my escorting officer. But they continued and Amy Ludlow came rushing into the room and she said, “Everybody stay there, It’s Usman,” she said, and started pressing the numbers on her phone. And so I made the assumption that these screams were obviously related to this chap called Usman and he was potentially responsible.
So I just thought, “Sod this.” I just jumped up and made my way to the door really quickly, went down the stairs, and immediately I saw, who I now know is Saskia Jones, laid on the bottom of the stairs, lots of blood coming from her neck. And the officer who was with me had his hand on her neck trying to stem the flow of blood. Another lady was laid on the floor in the foetal position, lots of blood underneath her, not moving. And then I saw ahead of me Usman Khan.
Andy Coulson: [0:31:33] I’m going to stop you just very quickly. Steve, you’re on the first day of release after a decade and a half in prison, not one act of violence during that time. As you say, prison escort had discouraged you from getting involved, but you say to yourself, “Sod it, I’m getting involved.”
Steve Gallant: [0:31:59] Yes.
Andy Coulson: [0:32:01] Just try and explain to me what led you to- having years, a decade and a half of avoiding in prison those moments of random violence, of these repeated incidents exploding around you and being able to resist, what caused you in that moment to say, “No, this is different.”
Steve Gallant: [0:32:24] Somebody was in danger. I heard a girl’s voice, a girl scream, so for me that was it, somebody was in danger. I was surrounded by academics. I know what my physical abilities are, I’d been training for years in prison anyway, I’d been doing boxing and Ju-Jitsu, even though I’d not been involved in violence I was keeping myself physically fit. So I was probably at my peak mental and physical fitness. So I guess with that in mind and knowing someone was potentially in danger, I thought I would take the risk and go and investigate. I knew Amy Ludlow anyway, I knew Amy and I know she’s a sensible lady and when she came rushing into that room as well, I knew something was-
Andy Coulson: [0:33:04] Properly wrong.
Steve Gallant: [0:33:05] Properly wrong, yes. So that’s why, I mean that and another factors made me make that decision to go, “Sod it,” and go and investigate.
Andy Coulson: [0:33:14] So let’s pick it up. You’re at the bottom of the stairs, Khan is in front of you, you are able to see immediately that he’s got these knives strapped to his wrists, and I think what appears to be a suicide vest?
Steve Gallant: [0:33:25] Yes.
Andy Coulson: [0:33:25] A vest with explosives. Just tell us what happened next.
Steve Gallant: [0:33:31] Well, I’d seen Usman, who I now know to be Usman, and I just thought to myself, “Well, you’re clearly responsible for this.” I immediately knew that this was probably a terrorist attack. It just seemed so obvious given the situation, everything about it, and I genuinely didn’t hesitate. I didn’t really think about the consequences on me. I just felt- I think underlying all what I’d been through, all the violence I’d seen, my own violence, everything, I was so fed up of seeing it. And then on my first day out of prison I see this atrocious act of violence and for me it was just this almost-
I mean it’s weird because everything happened so quickly and when I say I didn’t think about it, I probably did but subconsciously. So for me it was just natural just to deal with it, just to take it on, and it felt to me like it was just a natural thing for me just to engage into. I didn’t hesitate once.
Andy Coulson: [0:34:34] And do you remember feeling any fear?
Steve Gallant: [0:34:37] No, not at all. Not one-
Andy Coulson: [0:34:39] Adrenaline took over.
Steve Gallant: [0:34:41] Adrenaline took over, but I didn’t- I wasn’t aware of my adrenaline, I was just focused single-mindedly on making sure that this man could hurt no-one else. Of course I kept my distance, I did things right, I know what my physical abilities are, I wasn’t stupid just to run at him and grab him. Initially what I did was, I saw a piece of wood on the floor.
And I thought, “There’s still people, they’re in danger, they need medical assistance fast.” There were also people who hid, there were also people upstairs, and at risk to this guy as well. So whatever I needed to do, it had to be done fast anyway, expediently. So my aim was just to keep him occupied until the police arrived or take him to the ground. So I just saw there was a big chunk of wood next to me on the floor, probably from a previous skirmish, so I picked it up and just launched it at his head. And it just missed and hit this big curtain behind him.
And then he came towards me and opened up his jacket to show me his explosives.
Andy Coulson: [0:35:37] What did he say, Steve?
Steve Gallant: [0:35:39] He didn’t say anything at that point, he just showed me his vest, probably trying to scare me off. But I wasn’t fazed by it, I just told myself it’s probably fake. I didn’t know that at the time, of course, but I guess that was my psychology just trying to deal with it.
Andy Coulson: [0:35:54] Darryn and John are now on the scene. Darryn had taken the bizarrely these huge narwhal tusks that were effectively kind of ornaments on a wall.
Steve Gallant: [0:36:03] Yes.
Andy Coulson: [0:36:04] He’d taken one of those and you grabbed that and jabbed or threw that?
Steve Gallant: [0:36:12] Well, after I’d thrown this piece of wood at Usman and he’d shown me the bomb, I was then stood there unarmed and Usman was there, and I then just turned and then, who I now know as Darryn Frost was stood next to me holding out the narwhal tusk. So I just took it, I didn’t think nothing of it, I just took it and I thought, “Well, this seems like an ideal type of weapon to use to keep him at bay and whatnot.” So I just took it and then went into- he was in like a foyer area, it was quite a tight space, but I just went into the doorway and then I just took him on, we just engaged into this- he’s seen me coming now, he’s swinging his knives, we’re going backwards and forwards, just keeping us distance from him, and I managed to stab him with the narwhal tusk, I think I hit him in the chest. But it seemed to bounce off and he seemed to take the blows really, really well, which made me think, “Hang on a minute, this guy, has he taken something or what?”
But I continued and he come back at me again and I managed to hit him with the narwhal tusk and snap it across his shoulder. But then I was unarmed again so he ran towards me, I backed off again, and then he stopped. He sort of went back into the foyer and I just told myself, “Just get back there, what’s the matter with you?” So I went back in.
I picked up a chair and then managed to smash that over him, and then after a while he turned round and said, “I’m waiting for the police, I’m waiting for the police.” And then came towards me and I moved away and he shut the door. Obviously he was starting to feel the heat, but for me I thought, “Let’s not give him no thinking time.” So by then he’s managed to make his way back over to the front-
Andy Coulson: [0:37:37] Just again, if we can just pause for a second. There’s two opportunities for you to perfectly reasonably step away, but you choose to just keep going back in?
Steve Gallant: [0:37:47] Yes, I mean it probably seems that I enjoy violence.
Andy Coulson: [0:37:51] No, it doesn’t, I’m not suggesting that.
Steve Gallant: [0:37:54] No, I’m not saying it to you but to anyone who might be sort of contemplating that, because there I am, really sort of pushing and getting on to this guy and using violence against him. But it was for that simple reason was to keep him occupied or take him down because other people were still vulnerable.
So yes, I could have backed off, but there was a point at which he then raced out of the building and onto London Bridge. And someone shut the door behind him. The door to the Fishmongers’ Hall, it locks automatically so people can’t get back in if they walk out. And I remember saying, “There’s people out there, there’s people out there on London Bridge, they haven’t a clue what’s just about to hit them.” So I just said to this kid, “Move, I’m going out after him.” So I went out and then as I got to the top of the stairs, I seen Usman walking towards London Bridge and I see a number of ladies wearing office clothing walking towards him.
Andy Coulson: [0:38:48] Just remind ourselves what time of day this is?
Steve Gallant: [0:38:50] Two o’clock in the afternoon. Yes, very busy.
Andy Coulson: [0:38:54] So people probably heading back to the office after lunch?
Steve Gallant: [0:38:56] Yes, it was just busy, traffic almost to a standstill. I see these ladies walking towards him completely oblivious. I thought, “I’d best delay them”, so I shouted, “Get back, it’s a terrorist, get back, it’s a terrorist.” And at that point I even thought, “This is crazy, what’s going on? Have I lost my mind or something?” But I had to stay the course, you know?
Andy Coulson: [0:39:17] And John and Darryn had gone with you, right?
Steve Gallant: [0:39:19] No, John and Darryn were still inside. Usman- now it’s at this point that I go blank, by the way. I only know what happened because when I went to the inquest, the chap who was there dealing with the case told me what happened.
Andy Coulson: [0:39:40] And a lot of it is on film.
Steve Gallant: [0:39:42] Yes, not inside, there was no cameras inside at the time, so that’s not filmed, but there is a point-
Andy Coulson: [0:39:46] But outside on the bridge there’s CCTV?
Steve Gallant: [0:39:47] Outside on the bridge, but there’s a point where I go out- Usman must have been irritated by me and he’s come back up the stairs. I don’t remember this, he ran towards me and apparently he’s right next to me. I’ve backed off back into the building because I’m unarmed and I’ve shut the door, he can’t get back in. I’ve then gone and picked up another narwhal tusk and then gone back out.
He’s gone back down on the bridge and I’ve gone out after him. And then he’s turned to face me again outside and we’ve had another altercation outside where I whack him. He managed to get the narwhal tusk off me and then throw it back at me somehow. But I don’t remember this, I don’t remember it at all.
Andy Coulson: [0:40:20] Really, that bit of it is a complete blank?
Steve Gallant: [0:40:23] Well, you can imagine, this is my first day out of prison in fourteen and a half years. This is my first second of actually being in the fresh air without no-one escorting me, because he’s in there, and I’m actually chasing a terrorist out on to London Bridge. So it must have been some sort of information overload, God knows, but-
Andy Coulson: [0:40:41] It’s an information overload listening to it, God only knows actually living it.
Steve Gallant: [0:40:48] And it’s only when I feel a cold spray hit my arm that my memory comes back and that was John Crilly coming out with the fire extinguisher; he sprays Usman from the top of the stairs and catches me on my arm. And it’s from there that my memory comes back.
Andy Coulson: [0:41:02] So pick it up from there.
Steve Gallant: [0:41:03] So then Darryn comes out with another narwhal tusk and Usman then turns and runs off towards London Bridge. Them two then chase Usman Khan and I follow suit. And then the other thing that was strange about that day as well, the sun was quite low, this is in November and it was shining across London Bridge so that it created a really surreal atmosphere. It felt odd, but I knew I had to just somehow stop this guy.
And as I reached him, I just remember saying to myself, “What am I messing about for? Just grab him or something, just take him to the ground here”, that’s what I told myself. And I remember just reaching for him, I took my two hands and just bringing him down to the ground, and there I just said to the other two, “Grab his hands, grab his hands.” And then Darryn jumped in and things went on from there.
Andy Coulson: [0:41:54] We know he’s got this suicide vest on at this stage, and this again just gets to the kind of extreme bravery of this situation, for you and for Darryn and for John. You all knew that he had this vest on, you didn’t know that it was fake.
Steve Gallant: [0:42:12] No.
Andy Coulson: [0:42:13] Which is what it turned out to have been. I get the adrenaline, I get the drive to protect, but you know he could have triggered that at any second had it been a- All your instincts were, “This is fake”, or all your instincts were, “It doesn’t really matter, I’ve just got to push him.”
Steve Gallant: [0:42:36] Well, I’d made that assessment that it was fake anyway, so I just stuck to that and didn’t think nothing more of it. I just got on with the job, and maybe in my mind I thought that if he were going to press it, he would have done it by now when I was whacking him with the narwhal tusk. Because if there’s anyone to take out, it would have been me. So I didn’t really think about it.
He had two knives still strapped to his hands. They were strapped by tape, they were six-inch knives, and I didn’t have a clear view of his hands. But I felt confident when I was on top of him because I’d been wrestling for years as well, so my hold and my grip is really good. I understand people’s body movement and stuff like that, so I’m really in tune with people when I’ve got hold of them. And I felt quite safe in terms of how I had hold of him. And then Darryn come in and grabbed his hands too.
Andy Coulson: [0:43:24] Were you able to get the knives off?
Steve Gallant: [0:43:25] I didn’t do that, I sort of kept hold of him, because I thought, “I’ll just keep a sort of-” I was in a good position, I knew he couldn’t just lash out with a knife, I’m quite quick anyway in terms of my responses. I felt reasonably comfortable with how I had things, but somehow he managed to get back to his feet. I don’t know he did that, but he did, and there was a few of us on him at the time. I remember he had a really strong solid base, he wasn’t quick on his feet, but he was solid, very hard to move.
And then a little gap opened up and I had a really clear view of his face and that’s when I gave him a couple of uppercuts to the jaw. And then he dropped back down again, everyone lands on top of him, and it’s during that point as well that someone actually ran up and said, “Give him a kicking.”
Andy Coulson: [0:44:10] Someone out of the hall or someone who was just passing by?
Steve Gallant: [0:44:12] It was someone, it was an ex-offender actually who had been in prison and was at the event that day. He knew some of the people, some of the ladies quite well who had been injured. And I’d seen him running up, all frustration, and he went, “Give him a kicking.” And I shouted, “No, don’t hit him,” and stopped any sort of violence towards him.
Andy Coulson: [0:44:33] Tell me that thought process, explain that thought process.
Steve Gallant: [0:44:37] Well, I did that because it wasn’t about the violence, it wasn’t about giving him a kicking, I could have at that point- and this is what I said to the parole board when I was told that I was being violent, by probation, that I’d been violent towards the terrorist offender. I explained that at that point I had the power to either get stuck into him myself, nobody would have said anything, I could have given him a few more boots and I could have got away with it, or I could have stepped back and let everyone give him a kicking. But I didn’t because it wasn’t about violence, it was about controlling the situation, and we had control at that point so there was no need for it.
Andy Coulson: [0:45:12] The police arrive, armed police. Just pick up what happens once they arrive, you see the police get out of their vehicle, it’s clear that they’ve got guns, it’s pretty clear what might well happen next. But as a group you don’t immediately withdraw, do you?
Steve Gallant: [0:45:32] No, I think it was important to still control him until people peeled away, because you can’t just let go and move back when everyone’s around, it’s just a mess. So when the police came I knew straightaway, I just knew, I thought, “He’s finished, he’s finished.” So I just thought, “I’ll just keep hold of him here until people move away and there’s enough space for us to peel off.” So as that started to happen and people moved away, I knew when my time was ready to move away.
Andy Coulson: [0:45:59] As I understand it, he said to the police, “I’ve got a bomb.”
Steve Gallant: [0:46:04] I never heard that.
Andy Coulson: [0:46:05] Darryn’s account, yes.
Steve Gallant: [0:46:05] Apparently Darryn had heard him say that “I’ve got a bomb,” which doesn’t surprise me because I think that Usman went that day to die, so it would make sense for him to say something like that.
Andy Coulson: [0:46:15] Yes. You watched the policeman shoot him.
Steve Gallant: [0:46:19] When I got off and moved away, I tried to tug at Darryn because he was still clinging on to him, but he wouldn’t budge, so I thought, “Well, that’s your choice mate, I’m trying to move you here, if you want to stay that’s fine.” Because it was obvious that once these bullets start flying, one of them could hit you. But I tried to pull Darryn and he wouldn’t let go and I thought, “I’ve done my bit, there’s nothing more I can do, I’ll leave the Police to deal with it now.”
So I peeled away and by the time I’d turned to look back, I’d heard a couple of shots, I think it was two shots, I’m not certain. Darryn was no longer on him, the police had pulled him off, and then Usman somehow managed to try and get back to his feet again, he tried to get up, which again surprised me-
Andy Coulson: [0:47:01] Having been shot.
Steve Gallant: [0:47:01] He’d been shot at that point, yes, twice. He tried to get up and then he was shot again and tasered in the head I think it was and I saw him drop back down again.
Andy Coulson: [0:47:14] You go back into Fishmongers’ Hall, you discover obviously that one of those two ladies that you saw at the bottom of the stairs, that one of them is dead, Saskia.
Steve Gallant: [0:47:27] Yes.
Andy Coulson: [0:47:27] As I understand it, you did not know at that stage, much earlier in the attack, before you’d come down the stairs, that Jack had been killed. In fact, I don’t think you discovered that until later that day or-
Steve Gallant: [0:47:38] No, I didn’t even know he’d been attacked at that point, but I made the assumption that something had happened when I went looking for him. And I said, “Where’s Jack?” you know, and people couldn’t speak, they couldn’t describe what had happened and I thought, “Well, maybe he’s been caught up”, and then I realised that he had been attacked at some point, the extent to which I didn’t know.
Andy Coulson: [0:47:55] This is someone that you’d known, somebody who’d been- you’d worked quite closely with, who had, in a prison of all places, where you’d kind of bonded some sort of relationship.
Steve Gallant: [0:48:07] Yes, I never knew Jack in his private life, but in his professional life I got to know him and he was a decent kid and he was passionate about what he was doing. And he had an amazing ability to make even the most lowly, downtrodden person feel a sense of self-worth. He was really good like that. But that was his passion,. So to hear that the next day he’d been killed by somebody who, by a person who was seeking and receiving Jack’s help, was, yes, it was a very powerful moment to hear that and very sad. Because I knew what Jack was like, I knew what sort of work he was doing, and that was gone forever. As I say, it was a very powerful moment.
Andy Coulson: [0:48:55] So you’re on day release from prison, you’re taken back to prison, this unbelievable kind of traumatic event that’s happened, and you’re back on the train, back to Spring Hill.
Steve Gallant: [0:49:10] Well, actually I got returned to Spring Hill by Counter Terrorism from-
Andy Coulson: [0:49:15] Right, so the police took you from Fishmongers’ Hall back to prison?
Steve Gallant: [0:49:19] Yes, they took me back to prison.
Andy Coulson: [0:49:23] Tell me what sort of- reception is the wrong word I know, but tell me what sort of reception you got back at prison, initially?
Steve Gallant: [0:49:32] Well, I knew- actually I was hoping that people wouldn’t know, but by the time I got back it was obvious that everybody knew. You know what it’s like in prisons and everyone was talking about it. But they said to me, “Look, just stay in your cell, just relax, just process what’s happened.” So I did. I thought, “I’m not going to come out.” A friend of mine went and got some food for me, because I thought, “I don’t want to go to the dinner hall because everyone was there and it’s just a bit too much for me.” So I just stayed in my cell, a few friends came by the next morning, “What’s happened, what’s happened?” And obviously I spoke to them.
Andy Coulson: [0:50:04] You skipped through that night. I mean that night must have-
Steve Gallant: [0:50:06] Oh, it was- I hardly got no sleep, but yes, there was a lot of images flashing through my mind and lots of stuff. But I knew that was just part of the process, what had just happened, I was coming down from a massive boost of adrenaline as well. So it was just a case of just letting that happen, just get through that. You’re going to be tired, you’re going to be withdrawn, there’s going to be a lot of people round you, so just allowing that to happen. Because I think if you fight it or resist it, there’s no point. Just let it happen, and that’s what I did.
Andy Coulson: [0:50:42] What happens in the days and weeks that follow? It’s not actually known publicly, certainly your name and your history is not known immediately, that does follow later. Obviously you’re thinking “How is this going to affect me?” You’ve still got, as you’ve explained, a way to run on your sentence, how is this going to affect it either positively or negatively? I hinted at it in the introduction; the system’s reaction was not necessarily straightforward, was it? And in fact some of it was quite negative, this question that through these extreme acts of bravery, you had somehow, for some people, shown yourself actually still capable of violence?
Steve Gallant: [0:51:26] Yes, everything seemed okay at first. I mean, that’s because my name wasn’t in the press, and I was quite happy with that. But it had been circulating on social media and the BBC had been in contact with Karl Turner, MP from East Hull, and they were looking to run something. So it was going to come out at some point.
And during that period a lawyer from Hull came to see me called Neil Hudgell. And Neil said to me, “Look, we can wait for your name to come out in the press and then we can respond if you want,” he give me options, “Or we can be proactive and try and control the narrative a little bit,” because we both knew that my previous offence had the potential to muddy things a little bit.
So we drafted a statement and in the end we chose to be proactive so we could, like I say, control that narrative a little bit. And I wasn’t breaking any rules at the time, I’d informed the Governor that I wanted to do that. She said, “I’d prefer you not to but I can’t stop you,” but I did it anyway. I released a press statement. And it was received pretty good from the press, well received I felt, but suddenly my name was out there in the public domain as this person who’d not only-
Andy Coulson: [0:52:41] And you wanted to do that because you wanted to confront the truth of your history, but do it in a way that was accurate and that was with a degree of control, that was the motivation?
Steve Gallant: [0:52:51] That’s right, yes. It was going to come out anyway, it was inevitable it was going to come out, so let’s control it. But some senior managers in the prison didn’t like the idea that I’d done this press release. And I was then thrown in handcuffs and taken to the prison next door, which is a Cat B prison, a closed prison, and left there to think about this-
Andy Coulson: [0:53:17] So after everything that had happened, let’s just be clear, you are punished. Being taken out of an open prison and thrown into a Cat B is a proper punishment, because you’re back in closed conditions.
Steve Gallant: [0:53:35] Yes, a big backwards step.
Andy Coulson: [0:53:35] The full regime, and you’re obviously thinking now towards the end of your sentence, “What on earth is this going to mean?” Because it’s by no means certain that you would be allowed out at the end of your sentence anyway, right?
Steve Gallant: [0:53:49] No.
Andy Coulson: [0:53:49] That was not a guarantee.
Steve Gallant: [0:53:50] No.
Andy Coulson: [0:53:51] And now you’re thinking, “Hang on, this extraordinary moment that has occurred, this event that’s occurred, could send my life backwards.”
Steve Gallant: [0:54:02] Yes, I felt I’d done something positive and yet I was being potentially punished for it. I don’t think the prison was necessarily trying to punish me, I think it was more of a risk management thing, that’s how they explained it. But still it wasn’t very well thought through, particularly given I realised at that time I was probably suffering from trauma due to that event. Which I wasn’t aware of at the time, but once I stepped back into that closed prison, it just came over me like a dark cloud.
And when I was in that prison, I did have suicidal thoughts and I’ve never had them before. I was thinking to myself, “Do I have to end it? Is that the answer to this?” And that’s just not me, I’m a strong person, I’m a really strong person.
Andy Coulson: [0:54:39] You’ve never had those thoughts?
Steve Gallant: [0:54:40] Never, never had anything like that ever.
Andy Coulson: [0:54:41] Throughout your entire sentence?
Steve Gallant: [0:54:42] No, and I wouldn’t do it. I haven’t got it in me to do that sort of thing, and I always think that good days always come, but I had these thoughts, these thoughts flashed my mind. But thankfully Neil Hudgell had spoken to Karl Turner MP from East Hull, and the next day Karl Turner stood up in Parliament and said to the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, “In 2005 Steve did a terrible thing, but on 29th of November 2019, he took a knife wielding terrorist to the ground. Will you congratulate and recognise Steve Gallant?” And Boris Johnson stood up and said, “Yes, I have deep admiration for Steve Gallant and indeed others who stepped in that day.”
Almost immediately the Governor of the prison come running across to Cat B, took me out and put me back into the open prison and back into my own cell. So it had a very positive outcome what Karl did, so I’m obviously very grateful for what he did there.
So now I’m back in the open prison, and I was planning on going to a university as well, in Oxford as well, so all that sort of came back into the fold and I was able to start getting back out into the community for the first time properly, and attending university. So at that point things started to brighten up again.
Andy Coulson: [0:56:06] So the track you were on, you got back on?
Steve Gallant: [0:56:08] I got back on that track, yes. Because I was on that track, I was going to go to university anyway to study and transfer my Open University Business Degree over to an Oxford Brookes one, so yes, I got back on that planned track.
Andy Coulson: [0:56:21] So there’s another positive development though, because obviously there’s a discussion now as to whether or not your sentence should- having been swung one way, it then swings the other way and there’s a live discussion as to whether or not actually there should be some kind of reward in terms of time for you as a result of the actions that you took?
Steve Gallant: [0:56:39] Yes, that wasn’t my aim, but people were saying, “You need time off, you need time off.” And I thought, “Okay, let’s just go with the process.” So Karl Turner, with the support of John Samuels KC, a lawyer who had been helping me, they wrote a letter to Boris Johnson. I didn’t know at the time but Boris had given Karl Turner his word that he would do all he can to help me. And so we asked him to honour that pledge. And he did; a week later I was given the Royal Prerogative of Mercy.
Andy Coulson: [0:57:07] And the net effect of that was a reduction of how long?
Steve Gallant: [0:57:11] So I had ten months knocked off my minimum tariff of seventeen years, so my minimum tariff had been reduced from seventeen years to sixteen years two months. It wasn’t a guarantee of parole but it meant I could apply for parole a little bit earlier than normal.
Andy Coulson: [0:57:25] Okay, and the parole process was not straightforward?
Steve Gallant: [0:57:28] No.
Andy Coulson: [0:57:28] There were some involved in that process who felt strongly that despite what had happened, the risk that they argued that sat within you for violence, remained. That was essentially their argument.
Steve Gallant: [0:57:48] Yes.
Andy Coulson: [0:57:48] There were others arguing passionately in the reverse. But that’s the parole process and that-
Steve Gallant: [0:57:54] Well no, the parole were great and I can come to that in a moment, and I can explain why I think it’s important for them to understand that and for me to understand it. But when my dossier had been brought to me, and the MAPPA Board had been involved and there was a recommendation for me to do- one of the things that they said was that I’d been violent towards a terrorist offender. And yes I had, but not in the normal sense of the word, it was quite an extreme situation. You could call it, I don’t know, reasonable force.
Andy Coulson: [0:58:27] Quite an extreme? That’s an understatement.
Steve Gallant: [0:58:28] Reasonable force, we could call it that, couldn’t we? But that term “violence towards a terrorist perpetrator” and then they said, “We recommend that Mr Gallant do a risk assessment of violence. Mr Gallant needs to look at his motivations and intentions,” and stuff like that. And then there was a suggestion that I should be gagged from speaking to the press.
So suddenly we had an extra load of boxes that needed to be ticked and dealt with prior to the Parole Board and it could have delayed and put us off. So yes, I was really sort of struck by all that, because I thought, “Well, okay, yes I had used violence, but look at my prison record. Fourteen and a half years, nothing. Look at what I’d achieved in prison, I’ve done all sorts of things.” And they didn’t take that into account. I think the problem is with the HMPPS and the Ministry of Justice, they have a tick box for shoplifter, tick box for rapist, tick box for murderer. Yes understandable, there isn’t one for hero or lifesaver, so I just slotted back into that murderer tick box.
But they did ask me, and rightly so, the Parole Board did say to me, “Look, do you know the difference between what you did during your initial offence and what happened during the incident on London Bridge?” And I articulated that, I explained the differences between why- what was behind underlying my motivation to attack my victim and what was underlying the motivation to stop Usman Khan from hurting others. So I explained them and that’s all it took, really. And I articulated that and so they were happy with it, and it was at that point that shortly after that the Parole Board said to me, “Mr Gallant, good luck for the future.”
Andy Coulson: [1:00:19] Being released from prison, how did that feel?
Steve Gallant: [1:00:25] I was already travelling backwards and forwards to Oxford anyway and feeling freedom. It was nice, it’s good, but it’s not- when you’re serving a life sentence you’re on licence, well, it’s for the rest of your life, you could get recalled to prison for the rest of your life, so you’re never fully free. But of course it was nice to finally walk away from the prison and not have someone looking over me, and go to McDonald’s and go to wherever and just enjoy certain things-
Andy Coulson: [1:00:53] So you don’t feel free now?
Steve Gallant: [1:00:54] I feel free, but I’m constantly aware that there is this overriding thing that could pull me back to prison at any point, looking over me. And although it’s unlikely given what I do in life, I’m engaging well, I’m integrated now and helping other people. I’m working, it’s still there.
Andy Coulson: [1:01:15] You’re in a relationship now?
Steve Gallant: [1:01:17] I am in a relationship, yes.
Andy Coulson: [1:01:18] Yes, so life is normalising, but do you feel like life will never be normal? I mean- and where are you on the sort of acceptance of that, I suppose? In the way that you accepted the situation when you were convicted, are you as accepting about this next phase of your life?
Steve Gallant: [1:01:37] Yes, the price- look, I’d taken someone’s life and they can’t ever experience even what I’m experiencing on licence, so therefore that’s the price and that is the British law. You take a life and it impacts you for the rest of your life, so I get that.
Andy Coulson: [1:01:52] Well you get it, do you agree with it?
Steve Gallant: [1:01:54] Well, it depends. I would love to see a situation where after ten years of good behaviour in the community, you could apply, for example, to have your licence terminated. Because if someone’s behaving for ten years and they’re contributing and perhaps even helping other prisoners reintegrate into society and reducing numbers of crime and stuff like that, then why not?
What is the benefit of keeping someone on life licence? They’ve clearly changed, they’re never going to go back to it. And another reason behind that is because the Probation Service is lacking resources anyway, why put resource into somebody who’s clearly changed and reintegrated, when you can focus that on people who need it.
Andy Coulson: [1:02:36] Steve, tell me about life now? You’ve got busy, to put it mildly.
Steve Gallant: [1:02:41] I am very busy, yes.
Andy Coulson: [1:02:42] You set up an organisation actually with one of those two other guys that you acted alongside with on London Bridge. Tell me about Own Merit?
Steve Gallant: [1:02:55] We do have a house now in Northampton and it’s currently got three or four guys in there. And we, yes, provide housing to prison leavers and support with trying to find employment. And we do that because we both know that when someone leaves prison and finds themselves in settled accommodation, they are 50% less likely to commit offences or to reoffend. So there’s a huge benefit in providing prison leavers with somewhere to live.
And that increases for everyone; you get them in employment and of course provide certain types of support. So Own Merit tries to- it’s a very small part of that huge jigsaw, but it tries to deal with those elements and that’s what Darryn and I have been working on over the last two years.
Andy Coulson: [1:03:41] You’re also working with Howard League?
Steve Gallant: [1:03:43] Yes.
Andy Coulson: [1:03:43] You’re a fundraiser quite involved in that organisation, Howard League absolutely at the forefront of prison reform.
Steve Gallant: [1:03:50] Yes.
Andy Coulson: [1:03:51] Where are you at the moment in terms of the atmosphere around that debate? Obviously we’ve very recently seen some policy changes from within government; people with lower sentences it seems will not be going to prison, or fewer of them anyway. What’s your view on where we’re heading on the whole prison debate?
Steve Gallant: [1:04:10] I think Alex Chalk seems to be much better than the previous Justice Secretary and possibly the one before that, I’m not sure. But the prison system has been going in the wrong direction, I think, for a long time. Ultimately the vast majority of people going to prison come out again at some point, so how do you want them to be? You want them to be able to reintegrate and possibly contribute, if necessary. So it’s important that you have the resources and stuff to make sure that people when they go to prison, they’ll come out in a better shape. And currently we’re not doing that. Prisons are massively under-resourced, understaffed, and it just doesn’t seem to be working.
Andy Coulson: [1:04:50] I just want to say thank you.
Steve Gallant: [1:04:52] You’re welcome.
Andy Coulson: [1:04:53] For coming in, sitting here, telling us your quite astonishing story and the book is a hell of a read. It’s very compelling.
Steve Gallant: [1:05:01] Oh thank you, I’m glad you liked it.
Andy Coulson: [1:05:02] And we should explain; it isn’t a book just about those events on London Bridge, it is about your journey to it and you are very frank, very open, very honest about failings, the history that sits behind your story, all of it I think incredibly valuable. And thank you for sharing it with us today, it is really appreciated.
Steve Gallant: [1:05:25] You’re very, very welcome but I just want to say that I do talk about my crime, I give a raw account of my crime. And part of the reason for that is because I learned some great lessons, some valuable lessons from my journey, and I think I want the reader to also learn or take from my journey too. And I think you can only really do that if you follow me and come through some of those really raw moments with me in my book, and that’s partly why I’ve put it in there.
Andy Coulson: [1:05:54] Very good. Steve, I’m going to ask you for your Crisis Comforts. We ask our guests to give us the three things that they kind of have relied on, leant on, can’t be another person, during the toughest of times. So for you, what three things would you focus on?
Steve Gallant: [1:06:15] When I was deep in the bowels of the prison system, and things were terrible, and I had this long way to go, potentially never getting out again of course, I just switched the perspective on what was happening. I knew that- look, I was still healthy, I could still eat, I could still educate myself, there were still opportunities within the prison system and I was still alive. And yet there are other people in the world who are free and still don’t have the things that I had. So I thought, “Well, at least I’ve got all these things.” And taking that perspective was comforting for me to know that, there’s always somebody worse off, always somebody worse off. I’m alive, I’ve got opportunities here and I can get through this. That was one of them.
Andy Coulson: [1:07:08] Very good. The other two? Something specific? What was your comfort in prison?
Steve Gallant: [1:07:21] A simple comfort for me was I’d just stick the kettle on and have a cup of tea. I love a cup of tea. I love Yorkshire teabags. That’s what I used to do at home with my mam, we used to go and have a cup of tea, so always have some teabags and-
Andy Coulson: [1:07:30] The power of a cup of tea is truly enhanced when you’re in prison.
Steve Gallant: [1:07:35] It is, oh yes, I mean you can’t beat it, I love a cup of tea, so having a cup of tea and just relaxing. I think, yes, if you can keep physically healthy, that helps the mind doesn’t it? When I went to prison I stopped smoking. I stopped drinking; you can get drink in prison in the form of hooch, I didn’t bother with any drugs. I wasn’t a big drug taker but I liked the party drugs. But I stopped all of that overnight and that helped clear my mind.
But then yes, I started to get into the physical exercise. I’ve always done a little bit of rugby or something in life, but by the time I went to prison I’d not been doing anything for years. So going to prison gave me the opportunity to sort of start getting to the gym proper and just making sure I was disciplined enough to just go to the gym as much as possible and just physically get myself in really good shape.
I mean, there’s two reasons behind that, one, it’s good mentally, two, keeping yourself physically in shape helps you to keep the odd idiot at bay as well, because it keeps them second guessing too. Because where I was going was somewhere quite dark, so I had to be physically in shape too, which I think helped a little bit.
Andy Coulson: [1:08:41] Outstanding. Steve Gallant, thank you so much for joining us today.
Steve Gallant: [1:08:45] You’re welcome, thank you.
End of Recording