‘He was like a magnet who brought people together’ – stabbing victim’s father

The father of one of the three victims of the knife attack in Reading has described his son as “marvellous, loving and caring” and “like a magnet”, bringing people together.

Robert Ritchie, a retired police chief inspector, was speaking to Sky News from the family home in the US city of Philadelphia.

He said of his son Joe Ritchie-Bennett: “Well he was an absolute marvellous individual. Loving, caring person. We described him as almost like a magnet, he just brought people together.

“And everyone who knew him and met him I could truly say became friends with him.”

Mr Ritchie-Bennett, 39, was stabbed and killed in a Reading park on Saturday evening in an incident being treated as “terror related”.

Mr Ritchie said he and his wife, Charlene, last spoke to their son on Friday night.

“I spoke to him almost every day so I last spoke to him Friday, the day before he was murdered.”

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“He was fine. He was great. He was telling us his plans for the weekend and he was always excited and enthusiastic about everything that he did,” Mr Ritchie said.

Mr Ritchie-Bennett was born and raised in Pennsylvania and after college in Toronto, Canada, he moved to the UK.

“There was a group of them – they were friends and they went to the UK and some of them live in London and Joe wound up in Reading,” his father said.

Terror attack suspect is arrested in Reading

Police arrest Reading terror attack suspect

“And he met his partner there, Ian Bennett. And he initially worked for a law firm in London and so he used to commute by train and then about 10 years ago, he started work for a pharmaceutical company whose UK headquarters is in Reading. So that was a real break for him”.

Mr Ritchie-Bennett married Ian Bennett in the UK in November 2006. Mr Bennett died, aged 32, in 2014, after a short battle with colon cancer.

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Reflecting on trips to Reading to see his son, Mr Ritchie said: “We have been with him in that park, his mother and I. We have been all around Reading and I think it’s a lovely place. We always enjoyed visiting over there.

“It was his adopted country. His adopted home. My sense is that he loved it and everything about it. He loved the United States also. He had a great childhood here and still enjoyed many, many friends here in Philadelphia.”

Libyan refugee Khairi Saadallah named as suspect in Forbury Gardens attack

Libyan refugee Khairi Saadallah named as suspect in Forbury Gardens attack

As neighbours and friends delivered flowers and food to the family house, Mr Richie said: “This has been some of the worst days of my life, you know, hearing that my son was murdered.

“We have had some sleepless nights and you know everything is still to be determined and you know however this will play out and so forth and you know we’re gonna bring him back here and bury him here because we want him close by.

“I want to be able to visit his grave for his birthday and Christmas and things like that. That’s about what we are left with at this point.”

Forensic officers work near Forbury Gardens, in Reading town centre, the scene of a multiple stabbing attack which took place at around 7pm on Saturday leaving three people dead and another three seriously injured.
Image:Police officers are investigating the attack in Reading

As the conversation drew to a close, Mr Ritchie said he imagined his son and his husband were together once again.

“They certainly are. I picture them in beach chairs, sipping margaritas looking at the sunset over the Serengeti. They used to love to travel.”

Mark Gibson

Graduates in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 1990. Move to Los Angeles California in 2004. Specialized in Internet journalism.

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