Convicted murderer James Ford was out on day release when convicted terrorist Usman Khan killed two people and injured others at a prisoner rehabilitation event last Saturday. It was reported that Ford tried to save the life of a female victim and helped disarm Khan. Ford had also been at the conference.

Were he anyone else, Ford would have received praise, perhaps seen his face on the cover of the newspapers – maybe he would even have received a medal, and that would have been it. But it’s a little more difficult to know how to react to someone who confessed to murdering a 21-year-old woman with the mental age of 15, offering no motive for his actions. Angela Cox, the aunt of Ford’s victim Amanda Champion, has said I don’t care what he’s done today, he’s a murderer.” 

Our media sometimes finds it difficult to deal with this complexity. The reports into this incident went with one narrative or the other, rather than holding the two in tension and asking what that means. And if we’re honest, we see ourselves doing this simplification in other situations, whether in our personal lives, in our politics, or in responding to sin and suffering around the world. 

As Christians we hold in tension the fact that we follow a God of justice who calls evildoers to account as part of his protection of the oppressed (Psalm 10:12 – 18), and a God of mercy who abounds in love and faithfulness and forgives wickedness, rebellion and sin (Exodus 34:6 – 7). We believe that all people can repent and be forgiven by God, but we know the pain this can cause for people who have been wronged – whether that’s from acts of terrorism, murder, adultery or a broken friendship. 


Jesus instructed His followers to forgive those who sin against us, for our Father has forgiven us our own sins (Matthew 6:12). But that’s hard to do sometimes, when we can’t be sure if the person who has hurt us will do so again. Of course, there is also a focus on repentance in the Christian message. Forgiving someone does not mean that we restore them to their former place in our lives. It can be difficult to watch someone repeatedly forgive and take back someone who continually hurts them. We don’t have to be naïve, but we do have to be open to the possibilities and remember that God is the judge, not us. 

I don’t know what went through James Ford’s mind when he murdered Amanda Champion; what motivated him on London Bridge; or how he has responded to rehabilitation efforts in the intervening years. Nor do I know whether he should be rewarded for his actions or left to finish his sentence as if nothing happened – or perhaps both. But it’s clear that rehabilitation is not a simple thing. 

The Bible does not present to us an easy narrative, dividing the world into heroes and villains. It presents the greatest of human beings as capable of incredible wickedness, and the wickedest as capable of being transformed by God. For its only hero is Jesus Christ, in whom God’s justice and mercy meet.