SECONDS after Usman Khan began his knife rampage near London Bridge, Gareth Evans found himself cradling one of the terrorist’s victims.
He held charity worker Saskia Jones, 23, who had been stabbed by Khan, and knew his words could be the last she would hear.
Gareth Evans recently returned to London Bridge for the first time two years since the attackCredit: Oliver Dixon
Gareth was sat on the same table as Khan at the event and saw no signs of what came next
“You’re loved, you’re beautiful,” he told her.
Moments later she lost consciousness.
Speaking on the eve of the second anniversary of the chilling attack, Gareth said he has been left with PTSD and still suffers flashbacks every day about the ordeal, in which Saskia’s co-worker Jack Merritt, 25, was also killed.
In his first newspaper interview, he told The Sun on Sunday: “What Usman Khan did will forever live with me and everyone else.
“I can still picture Saskia, after she’d been stabbed, falling into my arms. As I lay cradling her, my only thought was just to try to make sure she felt as comfortable as possible.
“I gently told her she was loved and was beautiful. I just hope she heard those words before she slipped away.
“Khan took away two angels that day. Saskia and Jack were the kindest souls you could ever wish to meet.
“They were only interested in helping people. They will forever be missed by everyone who knew them.”
And Gareth — a reformed criminal who was released from jail in 2017 after serving a six-year sentence for robbery — insisted that last month’s killing by an apparent terrorist of Tory MP David Amess as he held a constituency surgery showed that the Government must maintain its focus on the threat from Islamist terror.
He said: “We must not let terrorism win. David Amess’s death brings back the importance of staying vigilant and making sure terror suspects are properly rehabilitated.”
‘Khan was shouting, I’m going to kill you all’
Today 34-year-old Gareth recalls how he spent the day talking to his friend Jack before he was killed, and bravely tackled crazed Khan after he had stabbed six people — helping to prevent any further killings.
On November 29, 2019, Gareth met Jack at Cambridge train station before they travelled together to an event at London’s Fishmongers’ Hall organised by rehabilitation charity Learning Together, where they both worked.
Research assistant Gareth had sat next to Jack at work and credited his friend for helping him to turn his life around.
Recalling their final journey together, Gareth said: “I was a bit late for the train that day but Jack waited for me, while some of the others we were travelling with went ahead.
“That was typical of Jack — he was full of kindness. It meant it was just Jack and me on the train. He was in great spirits, laughing and smiling.
“He was full of plans and ambition. We were both looking forward to the event and to the year ahead in 2020. We spent most of the journey just chewing the cud, talking about what we wanted to achieve and all the work there was to do.”
The pair knew that convicted terrorist Khan, 28, would be at the event that day.
He was regarded as one of the charity’s biggest success stories and had become involved in Learning Together while serving an eight-year prison sentence for plotting a jihadi training camp in his parents’ homeland of Pakistan and planning to bomb the London Stock Exchange.
In 2018, while Khan was still in prison, Gareth had even arranged for the fanatic to attend an event, which had gone well — so the pair had no concerns about his attendance at Fishmongers’ Hall.
But hours later, all those hopes and ambitions were brutally snuffed out by Khan.
After brunch and a successful start to the conference, Gareth, who sat on the same table as the killer, was standing on a balcony inside the hall with John Crilly, another ex-prisoner, and retired judge John Samuels, when they heard a commotion below.
Gareth rushed down the stairs to find a scene of absolute horror.
Saskia, a Learning Together volunteer who he had met at Anglia Ruskin University where they both studied criminology, had just been attacked by Khan.
Only minutes before, he had been calmly chatting to her.
Gareth said: “Saskia had been stabbed and had gone pale. She fell into my arms.
“I’d only briefly met her before but I just tried to say something to comfort her the best I could.
“I don’t know if it helped her. I hope it did. But as I held her, she lost consciousness.
“Khan was standing at the bottom of the stairs and I could see he was armed with knives.
“Even though Saskia had lost consciousness I didn’t want to leave her on her own so I shouted to another man at the conference to come over and hold her.
“As I stood up and looked at Khan it was hard to believe it was the same person who had been taking part in the conference minutes earlier. There had been no sign of what he was about to do.”
Despite the huge risk to himself, Gareth then charged at Khan, who had two knives and a fake suicide belt.
He said: “I instinctively ran towards him. He was shouting, ‘Allahu Akbar’ and ‘I’m going to kill you all, you’re all f***ing dead’.
My first thought was we had to stop him from getting up the stairs and hurting anyone else.
“I grabbed his arm and pushed him back as hard as I could towards the door and out of the building.”
Gareth then helped tend to more victims while others arrived at his side to help take on Khan.
John Crilly raced down from the balcony and yanked a fire extinguisher off the wall while kitchen porter Lukasz Koczocik grabbed a spear known as a boarding pike, which was hanging on display in the Grade II-listed building.
‘I want a job. I don’t want to live on handouts’
Two others, Stephen Gallant, a murderer out of prison on day release, and Darryn Frost, a Ministry of Justice communications officer also at the event, piled in too and forced Khan out on to London Bridge.
Cops then shot him 20 times, fatally wounding him – just as he appeared to move his hands towards what officers suspected was a suicide belt.
Moments later Gareth discovered Jack had been fatally stabbed in the attack, which also left three others injured.
He said: “At that point I’d no idea Jack had also been killed. I’d gone back into Fishmongers’ Hall expecting to find him. I still can’t believe he’s gone.
“I think about Jack every day. People have since described me and others as heroes.
“I’m not. I did what I could but I don’t want a pat on the back. Jack and Saskia were heroes.
“They made me realise I can help to change things that are wrong in the world. They were only interested in hope.”
It later emerged that MI5 had concerns Khan may commit an attack after his prison release but failed to share the intelligence.
This week Gareth bravely returned to London Bridge for the first time since the attack.
Yet two years on, he admits his life has fallen apart and says he feels let down.
Despite having a first-class degree, he had been working for an agency making deliveries for John Lewis but lost the position when his past was disclosed.
Gareth also created a criminal justice consultancy with Jack’s support — but the work has dried up, meaning he has been forced to claim benefits, a situation he is desperate to get out of.
He said: “Everything has turned on its head since that day.
“The incident itself has had grave consequences on my mental health and I’ve been forced to rely on the welfare system.
“But I don’t want to be like this. I want a job. I don’t want to live on handouts or benefits.
“I want to be paid to do things that need to be done and that my experiences and my studies have made me qualified to do.
“But I can’t even hold down a pot- washing job right now. I really don’t know how to move forward.
“I keep asking for mental health support, I keep applying to different agencies, but the support hasn’t been there.”
He adds: “I’m just trying to live my life by the ideals Jack and Saskia set. I’m trying to live by their principles.
“They made me realise I can help to change things in the world. We can’t throw that away. To do that would be an insult to their memory.”
Usman Khan was known to security services before the attackCredit: AFP
The attack in 2019 was the second terror spree at London BridgeCredit: AFP
Gareth tried to comfort charity worker Saskia Jones as she lay dyingCredit: AFP or licensors
Jack Merritt was also killed by Khan in the 2019 attackCredit: AFP or licensors