The family of a history teacher murdered in a Reading park have paid tribute to “the best son, brother, partner and friend we all could ever have wished for” – saying they haven’t slept since the killing.
James Furlong, 36, died when Khairi Saadallah launched his violent spree in Forbury Gardens on June 20 last year.
The attack also claimed the lives of scientist David Wails, 49, and US citizen Joseph Ritchie-Bennett, 39, and injured three others.
The victims were enjoying a summer evening after the first lockdown restrictions in England were relaxed.
Saadallah pleaded guilty to three counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder in November, but denies having a terrorist motive.
A victim impact statement was read at the Old Bailey by Alison Morgan QC on Wednesday, submitted by Mr Furlong’s father Gary Furlong on behalf of the family, including his mother Jan, his brother Gary, his sister-in-law Laura and his two nieces.
It read: “James was a remarkable person, an unfailingly kind and compassionate man.
“He was a gentle, deeply caring soul and a great support to those he knew.
“James lived a happy and full life and we were a very close family.
“James was gay. He first came out as gay to his mother and then later to the rest of his family. He was worried that it might change things, but it only made us all closer.
“As a parent, to have a child is the greatest gift. To lose a child is unbearable, but to lose a child in such a cruel and violent way is excruciating.
“We have not slept a full night’s sleep since it happened. There is a massive gap where James should be that makes our hearts ache.”
Mr Furlong’s partner, Tony Belicard, told the court the pair met in February 2019 and shared the “same hobbies and the same ideals”.
He said: “We had many plans, moving in together, meeting my parents, he was learning French, we even talked about adopting a child.
“With his loss I lost my happiness, my hope and future. My life is filled with sadness and despair.
“James was an incredibly kind person, and if this murderer had asked him for help instead of taking his life, James would have reached out without any hesitation.”
Saadallah, 26, who has admitted three murders and three attempted murders, sat through the statement with his head bowed.
The failed Libyan asylum seeker allegedly shouted “Allahu akbar” during his rampage, during which three others – Stephen Young, Patrick Edwards and Nishit Nisudan – were also injured.
Earlier during proceedings on Wednesday, his defence barrister Rossano Scamardella QC argued against a whole life prison term, which is sought by the prosecution.
He suggested the sentence should be one of life imprisonment with a starting point of 30 years, citing a lack of serious premeditation, the “fleeting” strength of his commitment to Islamist jihad, and his mental health issues.
He told the court: “None of the submissions I’m about to make are designed to downplay or dilute the seriousness of the incident … criminal offending is rarely more serious than this.”
Mr Scamardella went on: “In this case, significant planning or premeditation simply does not exist.
“I concede the defendant took certain steps to facilitate the killing, putting himself in a position to commit the act, but nothing close in the issue of planning that would justify a whole life term.”
He said Saadallah had a “fleeting or occasional interest” in Islamist extremism, but that “must be viewed in the wider context of his other behaviours at the time”.
Mr Scamardella said: “He smokes cigarettes, takes drugs, he is a heavy user of alcohol. He self-harmed, he had tattoos.
“A person willing to kill for that cause would not behave in that way.”
Since arriving in Britain in 2012, Saadallah had been repeatedly arrested and convicted of various offences, including theft and assault, between 2013 and last year.
He was released from HMP Bullingdon on June 5, just days before the attack.
Saadallah had developed an emotionally unstable and anti-social personality disorder, with his behaviour worsened by alcohol and cannabis misuse, the court has heard.
Mr Scamardella said: “We are not suggesting that this was the cause of his offending.
“But that does not mean that his culpability is not reduced by virtue of his condition. We say that culpability is reduced.”
The court heard that a psychiatrist had since concluded that the events of June 20 were “unrelated to the effects of either mental disorder or substance misuse”.