• 'I have got to live with it for the rest of my life'
• Three bullets fired 'to be certain', hearing told
* Sandra Laville and Vikram Dodd
* The Guardian,
* Saturday October 25 2008
For members of the public he was merely a voice, hidden behind 10-foot screens to protect his anonymity, and known only as Charlie 12. At 1.46pm, two hours into his evidence, he suddenly became human.
Much has been written about what happened inside tube carriage 53613, where Jean Charles de Menezes lost his life in a confluence of circumstances on which an inquest jury will have to pass judgment. Yet until now nothing has been heard from the man who pulled the trigger at point blank range, firing at least three times into the head of de Menezes, who he assumed was a suspected suicide bomber.
In a conference room at Oval cricket ground yesterday, the firearms officer, who has served 25 years in the police, faced the dead man's mother and brother to explain his role in the tragedy.
For five weeks the de Menezes family, the media, the lawyers and those members of the public who have attended the inquest every day have waited for the moment when Charlie 12 was brought to court to give evidence.
Like 49 other police witnesses, his identity was protected by screens that block his face from everyone except a select group in the courtroom. But for those sitting in the public area of the court yesterday, the arrival of C12 into his seat was met with emotional anticipation reserved for him alone.
He read the oath in a firm, strong voice, promising to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Two thirds of the way through his evidence, he faltered only slightly when he said he knew what the family were about to hear would be extremely distressing.
"I cannot begin to put myself in the position that they are in," he said. "I am a family man myself and to lose a son or any member of your family in this situation, I just cannot believe. I offer them my sincere condolences."
But it was only after the hearing that his feelings overwhelmed him, and he broke down.
Over almost three hours of questioning from Nicholas Hilliard QC, counsel for the coroner, C12 described his actions on July 22 2005. A specialist firearms officer since 1998, he had never fired a gun at a suspect before.
On the morning of July 22 he was in the team of firearms officers who were informed they would be involved in an anti-terrorist operation following the previous day's attempted bombings in London, and two weeks after the July 7 tube bombs.
He collected his Glock pistol, two magazines containing 17 rounds each and specialist 124-grain ammunition, said to be the most suitable for immediate incapacitation.
At 7.45am, he and others were given a 25-minute briefing which gave him details of Hussain Osman, one of the would-be suicide bombers who was on the run after failing to blow up his bomb at Shepherd's Bush tube the day before, and was told he "may have to use ... unusual tactics that we had not used before".
After a second, more detailed briefing from the anti-terrorist branch at 8.45am, C12 said, "I was left in no doubt as to the type of suspects we were preparing to intercept. That they were prepared to take their own and others' lives and the danger faced would be immeasurable.
"We were possibly about to face suspects who were trained and had attempted to commit atrocities on innocent human beings ... there was a real, tangible danger that if we didn't act quickly or correctly then there would be extreme loss of life.
"How would you feel? What would you do? These devices could be concealed around the body, hidden from view. How would you act faced with this type of threat?
"The whole journey was an extremely emotional one for me ... at the briefing and at the possibility of not going home again at the end of the day."
Deployed with the other firearms teams, C12 arrived at Stockwell tube. Informed by surveillance teams the suspect had left the bus, there was a long period of radio silence and then the words: "Towards platform one and two."
Over the radio he heard: "All units state red, state red".
"I immediately left my vehicle and sprinted toward the entrance to the tube. My firearm was in my waistband ... and I carried a blue overshirt and a handheld radio it was an attempt to remain covert."
As he ran into the station, he saw another firearms officer, C2, coming the other way. "I distinctly remember seeing him, and we had eye contact ... it was certainly reassuring that another firearms officer was there."
Running into the station, he jumped the barriers, pushing away a member of London Underground staff and pulling out his gun.
"I could hear people behind me shouting 'Armed police, get out of the way.'"
He ran down the escalator, passing a surveillance officer who said: "He's on the north-bound tube."
Heading towards the tube carriage he saw another man standing in open double doors who gesticulated towards his left.
"I had to try and pick out where this suspect was, I had to try and remember to be covert ... If I hadn't, if I had shown myself as a police officer ... we could be dealing with the detonation of a bomb," he said.
"I remember trying to take in as much information as I could and keep as close as I could to the side of the tube while looking in and trying to pick up any information I could from inside the carriage."
C12 said despite believing the suspect was a suicide bomber, it was not inevitable that he would open fire. "I did not have any preconceived ideas of what I was going to do."
Another surveillance officer at the doors made a clear, overt gesture with his right hand and said, "That's him," pointing towards the suspect. Pausing in his narrative, C12 told the jury he had to make it clear the speed at which the next events unfolded.
He said he believed, mistakenly, the suspect was wearing a bulky denim jacket, and when he entered the train, de Menezes reacted. "He immediately looked in our direction and stood up.
"It was a free-flowing movement from looking in our direction and standing up, he immediately came towards us and closed down the distance between us. His hands were waist height ... I couldn't understand the reaction."
He believed De Menezes was aggressive and was moving towards him in order to maximise the impact of the blast from the bomb.
"I shouted 'armed police' [and] at the same time brought my gun up from my leg and pointed it at his head area.
"He continued to move towards me ... it was at that stage I thought: 'He is going to detonate, he is going to kill us and I have to act now in order to stop this from happening ...
"If I didn't act members of the public would be killed, my colleagues would be killed and I would be killed. I had a duty to protect the public."
De Menezes was grabbed by another surveillance officer, Ivor, and pushed into his seat. "I went with Ivor so when de Menezes reached the chair we were all together like in a rugby scrum. I had to get my gun past Ivor and I remember the gun actually coming into contact with him. I don't know how close the gun was, but it had to be close because I couldn't afford to miss."
Asked if he intended to kill, he replied: "Yes sir." Asked why he fired three times, he said: "I had to be certain the life was extinct, that there wasn't any more threat, that this person couldn't detonate a bomb. I fired a number of shots because I could detect movement, albeit it might have been caused by the bullets ... I had to make sure that the threat no longer existed."
Satisfied that the man was dead, he shouted: "Bomb, everyone off" to clear the carriage.
In the next few moments he left the tube with the other firearms officer, C2. As he recalled how the men checked each other for injuries, he broke down and could not go on.
"Just take your time," Hilliard told him.
"Please don't think you are under any pressure," said the coroner, Sir Michael Wright. "Would you like a break?"
The officer's response was inaudible beneath suppressed sobs and the hearing was adjourned for 10 minutes.
When he returned, C12 finished what he had tried to say: "We were covered in blood," he said. "We just lifted up each others T-shirts just to make sure we weren't hurt."
At midday the next day he discovered had killed the wrong man. "How did you feel?" said Hilliard.
"A sense of disbelief, and shock, sadness, confusion," said the officer. "Everything I have ever trained for, threat assessment, seeing threats, perceiving threats and acting on threats proved wrong, and I am responsible for the death of an innocent man. That is something I have got to live with for the rest of my life."
Click to view image: '242858-jeancharlesdemenezesbody.jpg'
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