I had to shoot him: Firearms officer breaks down as he tells de Menezes inquest why he fired the first bullets... and the guilt he has to live with
By Charlotte Gill
Last updated at 1:21 AM on 25th October 2008
Killed: Jean Charles de Menezes
One of the policemen who shot Jean Charles de Menezes broke down in the witness box yesterday as he described the fatal moments.
He said he had believed the 27-year-old Brazilian was a suicide bomber and there was no alternative but to kill him.
The officer, codenamed C12, told the inquest on Mr de Menezes he had never before fired at a suspect in 12 years with the firearms unit.
Asked how he felt when he learned the next day that he had killed an innocent man, he said: 'A sense of disbelief and shock, sadness, confusion.
'Everything I've trained for for threat assessment - seeing threats, perceiving threats and dealing with threats - proved wrong and I'm responsible for the death of an innocent man. It's something I've got to live with for the rest of my life.'
It is the first time that either of the two officers who shot Mr de Menezes seven times in the head at Stockwell Tube station has spoken about it publicly.
The Brazilian's mother Maria, brother Giovani and other family members were in court to hear the distressing details of the events of July 22 2005.
C12, who fired the first shot, said: 'I can't begin to put myself in the position that they're faced with. I'm a family man myself and to lose a son or any member of your family in this situation I just couldn't believe. I offer my sincere condolences to them. I really respectfully do that.'
Bloody end: Jean Charles de Menezes' body lies slumped in the Tube carriage after the shooting
He said he had opened fire as he and another officer bundled on top of Mr de Menezes because he was convinced he was facing a suicide bomber about to detonate a bomb.
The officer said: 'If there had been any other alternative, you must believe me I would have taken it, but I did not have any alternative.
'If I didn't then 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.'
The inquest has heard that police believed Mr de Menezes was Hussain Osman, one of the men who had launched failed suicide attacks in London the previous day.
Battle for justice: Giovani da Silva and Maria Otone de Menezes, brother and mother respectively, of Jean Charles de Menezes, arrive at the Oval Cricket ground in south London
Mr de Menezes's mother was fighting back tears as she emerged from the hearing at Oval Cricket Ground in South London.
She said through an interpreter: 'It's been very difficult for us to listen to everything that's been said, but we want to hear the truth. I feel very strong and I have been brave and all this strength has been coming from God.'
C12 told how he sprinted into Stockwell Tube station after his team leader radioed, 'All units State Red, State Red'. He jumped over the ticket barrier and ran down the escalator. He was armed with a Glock pistol, loaded with ammunition designed to incapacitate and kill a suspect immediately with a single shot to the base of the skull.
He said he saw a man he realised must be a surveillance officer holding a train door open and gesturing at Mr de Menezes, saying: 'That's him.'
Armed police officers burst through Stockwell Tube ticket barriers looking for a suspected suicide bomber, where Jean Charles de Menezes was shot
C12 said: 'Things happened very quickly. He [Mr de Menezes] immediately looked in our direction and stood up. I recall him wearing a denim jacket which appeared to be bulky. He immediately came towards us and in my opinion he closed us down, he closed down the distance between myself and him.'
C12 said he couldn't understand why Mr de Menezes was coming towards him. He said: 'I shouted "armed police" and brought the handgun up from my left and pointed in the head area.
'But he continued with this forward motion towards me.
'It was at that stage that I formed the opinion that he's going to detonate. He's going to kill us and I have to act now in order to stop this from happening. I had no alternative, I must shoot him before he kills.'
C12 said the surveillance officer, codenamed Ivor, grabbed Mr de Menezes and pushed him back in his seat.
Alert: CCTV still showing Stockwell Station and firearms officers just moments before Jean Charles De Menezes was shot
He said: 'I actually went with Ivor so when Mr de Menezes reached the chair we were all together. It was a bit of a rugby scrum, as it were. I had to get my gun past Ivor's head and I remember the gun coming into contact with his head in order to get on to Mr de Menezes. I don't know how close I was but I had to be close because I couldn't afford to miss.'
C12 then fired three shots into the side of the young Brazilian's head.
He said: 'I had to be certain that life was extinct, that there wasn't any more threat that this person could detonate a bomb.'
He said if Mr de Menezes had stopped coming towards him he would not have fired.
C12 said he had been 'covered in blood' and he and C2, the other firearms officer, checked that they had not been injured.
The inquest continues.
Protest: A banner is hung from the windows of flats near to where the inquest into the death of Jean Charles de Menezes is taking place in Kennington, South London