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Mourners pay tribute to victims of park attack who were ‘support network for those in trouble’

DOZENS of mourners, many wearing rainbow coloured masks, paid their respects yesterday at the pub where three friends killed in the Reading terror attack used to drink together.

Around 50 people stood outside The Blagrave Arms and observed a minute’s silence after a rendition of Somewhere Over The Rainbow was played in tribute to the three men.

Tears for the fallen: Mourners outside The Blagrave Arms where a floral heart was put up in tribute to ‘the loveliest people we know’, victims (l-r above) James Furlong, David Wails and Joe Ritchie-Bennett PICTURES: PA/HYDE NEWS

Police yesterday named the victims as scientist David Wails and US-born Joe Ritchie-Bennett, 39. They were stabbed to death next to their friend, teacher James Furlong, 36, in Forbury Gardens in the town centre just before 7pm on Saturday.

Martin Cooper, chief executive of Reading Pride, said the friends were ‘great supporters’ of the event and their deaths were a tragedy for the town’s LGBT community. ‘They were their own little support network for anybody to offload their troubles and gave great advice,’ he added.

He said it did not appear to have been a homophobic attack. ‘The police will investigate but I’m led to believe it was a random event,’ he said.

Arrived from Libya: Khairi Saadallah

Outside The Blagrave Arms, a notice was put up in tribute to ‘the loveliest people we know’. It said: ‘Dave, James and Joe, we will never forget you. RIP.’

Pub spokesman Jamie Wake, a Reading Pride founding member, said: ‘I wish I could stand here and say I can make sense of the senseless, but I cannot. We will work through this grief, together as one.’

In Philadelphia, Mr Ritchie-Bennett’s older brother Robert said: ‘Our family is heartbroken.’ The victim, who had lived in Britain for 15 years, lost his husband of eight years, Ian Bennett, to colon cancer at the age of 32 in 2014.

Paying tribute: Home secretary Priti Patel PICTURE: GETTY
‘An inspiration’: Holt Community School, where Mr Furlong taught, pays its respects PICTURE: PA

Mr Wails was a senior scientist at chemicals company Johnson Matthey in Reading. Friend Dee Scheepers wrote: ‘Sorry I wasn’t able to say goodbye in the flesh, sorry I couldn’t tell you how much you meant to me. Love you boys, rest in peace.’

Two minutes’ silence was held at The Holt School in Wokingham, where Mr Furlong was head of history and politics. As pupils and staff gathered at the gates, co-headteacher Anne Kennedy said: ‘James was a kind and gentle man. He truly inspired everyone he taught.’

Forensic investigation: Police search shrubs near the scene of the killings PICTURE: PA

Terror suspect Khairi Saadallah was arrested by unarmed police within minutes of the attack. Home secretary Priti Patel, who visited Reading yesterday, said: ‘These officers ran to help without a second thought. They showed courage and bravery way beyond their years.’

Police have been given a warrant to continue questioning Saadallah until Saturday. The 25-year-old arrived from Libya in 2012 but was not one of the 3,000 names under active investigation by security agencies.