Tributes have been paid to two young people who died in the London Bridge attack on Friday.
University of Cambridge graduates Jack Merritt, 25, from Cottenham, Cambridgeshire, and Saskia Jones, 23, from Stratford-upon-Avon, were both involved in the Learning Together prisoner education programme, with Mr Merritt as a course coordinator and Miss Jones as a volunteer.
David Merritt, Jack’s father, said his son was a “beautiful spirit” who “lived his beliefs” and that he was learning new things about him through tributes paid online.
A statement from the family said: “Jack Merritt, our beautiful, talented boy, died doing what he loved, surrounded by people he loved and who loved him. He lit up our lives and the lives of his many friends and colleagues, and we will miss him terribly.
“Jack lived his principles; he believed in redemption and rehabilitation, not revenge, and he always took the side of the underdog.
“Jack was an intelligent, thoughtful and empathetic person who was looking forward to building a future with his girlfriend, Leanne, and making a career helping people in the criminal justice system.
“We know Jack would not want this terrible, isolated incident to be used as a pretext by the government for introducing even more draconian sentences on prisoners, or for detaining people in prison for longer than necessary.”
Miss Jones, like Mr Merritt, had studied criminology.
Her family said in a statement: “Saskia was a funny, kind, positive influence at the centre of many people’s lives. She had a wonderful sense of mischievous fun and was generous to the point of always wanting to see the best in all people.
“She was intent on living life to the full and had a wonderful thirst for knowledge, enabling her to be the best she could be.
“Saskia had a great passion for providing invaluable support to victims of criminal injustice, which led her to the point of recently applying for the police graduate recruitment programme, wishing to specialise in victim support.”
They added Miss Jones’ death would “leave a huge void in our lives”.
Olivia Smith, a lecturer in Criminology who marked Ms Jones’ dissertation when the 23-year-old was at Anglia Ruskin University, described her as “one of a kind” who “would have been a force for good”.
Dr Smith said: “I’m so sorry that the world won’t get to see what she could have achieved.
“Saskia’s dissertation was so good that I cried with pride when I marked it.”
Both victims were attending a Learning Together programme conference at Fishmongers’ Hall on Friday when the attack took place.
Professor Loraine R Gelsthorpe, director of the Cambridge University Institute of Criminology – which organises the programme providing university lessons to prisoners, said: “Saskia’s warm disposition and extraordinary intellectual creativity was combined with a strong belief that people who have committed criminal offences should have opportunities for rehabilitation.”
Professor Gelsthorpe said Miss Jones graduated from the university in 2018, but remained in contact with Learning Together which was celebrating its fifth anniversary on Friday.
“They valued her contributions enormously and were inspired by her determination to push towards the good,” she added.
She also paid tribute to Mr Merritt and his “determined belief in rehabilitation”.
Professor Gelsthorpe said: “All of us at the Institute will miss Jack’s quiet humour and rigorous intellect.
“Jack’s passion for social and criminal justice was infectious. He was deeply creatively and courageously engaged with the world, advocating for a politics of love. He worked tirelessly in dark places to pull towards the light.”
She continued: “We are grateful to other members of the Learning Together community who bravely risked their own lives to hold off the attacker until the police arrived.
“These men included Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service staff and several people who have spent time in prison. They worked together selflessly to bring an end to this tragedy and to save further lives.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with their families, friends, and colleagues and students at the Institute and University more widely who were at the event, as well as others who were there and who have been affected and injured.”
Tributes and flowers were placed on London Bridge after part of the police cordon was removed on Sunday and some vehicles moved from the bridge.
One tribute attached to a photo of Jack placed under a road sign read: “I have no words. You were so loved and so needed on this planet.”
Another card said Mr Merritt was a “wonderful and wholly special human being”, adding: “You have been a light and rock to so many and we love you.”
Two large signs placed at the scene read “I love you forever. I am so so proud of you”, and “You were always an angel”.