On 29 November 2019, Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23, were fatally stabbed in the London Bridge terror attack at a conference at Fishmongers’ Hall.
The conference marked the fifth anniversary of Learning Together, a prison education programme.
One year on, Rosca Onya, a close friend of Jack and ex-convict dedicates his heartfelt debut single to their special friendship.
The 29-year-old refugee from Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) met the law Cambridge University graduate in 2018 at HMP Grendon in Buckinghamshire, where Rosca was serving an indeterminate IPP sentence for public protection for delivery of a firearm, for which he ended up serving nine years.
Jack was a course convenor for Learning Together, which brings Cambridge students and prisoners serving together to study criminology alongside each other.
Born in Kinshasa, Rosca fled civil war in DRC and came to the UK when he was nine years old.
His troubled childhood exposed him to severe trauma and lost two of his eight siblings in the war where he was separated from his parents who were captured.
Growing up between refugee camps in the outskirts of Congo, Nigeria and Benin, the British Red Cross found him in Benin and reunited him with his siblings and parents before being brought to the UK.
He arrived in south London and didn’t speak any English.
He was bullied at school and became involved in a local gang and was convicted for possession of a loaded gun at the age of 18 and began serving his sentence in 2009.
Nine years later he met Jack Merritt.
‘A Cambridge student sent to alter my path’
“When I met him for the first time I thought he was so cool, he made us prisoners look so uncool! He walked in and captivated the whole room, he had these loop earrings and his smile was so bright” Rosca said.
For the first week of the programme Rosca was nervous and didn’t talk, but Jack was one of the people that encouraged him to speak.
The two quickly formed a bond after Jack asked about Rosca’s upbringing in the DRC and his story.
Rosca added: “It was his approach, he was a true legend. I believe he’s still here guiding and advising me and I’m just following in the plan we had to give people a voice.
“He didn’t see black or white, he didn’t see colour. He had all these massive beliefs and dreams to change the world.
“My fondest memory of Jack is when he wrote me letters in prison to keep me going. There were times where I wanted to give up on myself, but he installed drive into me.”
The two friends wrote about their love for rap music and Jack taught him the history grime.
They discussed artists like Dave, Wretch 32, Skepta and Giggs and Jack helped him complete his Cambridge University Criminology course through Learning Together.
On the day of the attack Rosca was heading to the event at Fishmongers’ Hall when his probation officer called him and warned that there had been an attack and to not check social media.
Jack and Saskia were killed and two others were wounded by Usman Khan, the attacker who was released on licence from a terrorist offences sentence and later shot dead by police.
Rosca, who described Jack as his guide, struggled with grief.
He said: “When I heard I was sad, angry and I was confused.
“It was very difficult for me to refocus. I excluded myself and didn’t let anyone from the Cambridge programme back in because that’s how I dealt with grief.
“But I could hear Jack’s voice in my head saying ‘yo we’ve got to go, we’ve got things to do, come on let’s go’ and I just had to get myself back together and find that purpose to tell his story.”
Rosca first met Jack’s family at his funeral and remains in frequent contact with his parents, Dave and Anne Merritt, particularly Dave who he calls ‘Dad’.
Rosca said: “They are a very powerful, amazing family. His dad advises me on a lot of stuff and he’s got an amazing mum.”
Dave Merritt appears in the music video in a Facetime call with Rosca which also features his son, Khyro, Michael Mansfield QC, Cambridge students and ex-offenders.
The song, which took Rosca six months to write, was described by Jack’s parents as a beautiful and fitting tribute to Jack and their friendship.
“We feel honoured to know Rosca, and we know Jack would be proud of him as we are. We love you, Rosca!” they said.
Rosca will continue to support Jack’s legacy and work on his music.
And you know what just is, is that Jack just wanted justice
He was fair, he was funny, he was kind, he could empathize with everyone in mind
What Jack did in his 25 years takes a whole lifetime to come anywhere near
A fighter, compassionate, strong
(Jack by Rosca)
Featured image credit: Rosca Onya