Bomb disposal expert feared London Bridge attackers’ suicide belts were real

A bomb disposal expert has told jurors he only realised the London Bridge terrorists’ suicide belts were fakes after he cut them off their dead bodies.

Kevin Short arrived in Borough Market shortly after Khuram Butt, 27, Rachid Redouane, 30, and Youssef Zaghba, 22, were shot dead by firearms officers on the evening of June 3, 2017.

He told an Old Bailey inquest into their deaths how he knew time was of the essence to examine the devices strapped around the attackers’ waists.

He said members of the public were in the area and there were fears one or more attackers could still be at large.

Mr Short said he instructed two police officers guarding the bodies in Stoney Street to move back, get behind “hard cover” and try to clear the area “as best they could”.

Incident at London Bridge
Incident at London Bridge

He told jurors he decided to inspect the devices manually rather than deploy robots to see if they were viable explosives.

He was kitted out with gloves, a helmet, ballistic protection and body armour as he approached Zaghba with cover from firearms officers, the court heard.

He said: “When I removed the belt it was just bottles with silver tape wrapped round. I cut the tape off and just saw they were empty bottles.”

Asked if he identified it was a fake device quickly, Mr Short said: “I cut the belt. Up until that moment, no, I believed they were live devices.

“I shouted out ‘hoax’ and went to search the second body.”

Mr Short told jurors he did not assume the second suicide belt was also a hoax before he had cut it off and held if aloft.

He was asked if it was reasonable for a police officer with no training in explosives to assume the devices were real.

The witness said: “I held them and inspected them. Up until that time I believed they were real devices.”

Incident at London Bridge
Incident at London Bridge

Richard Horwell QC, for the Metropolitan Police, said: “The terrorists obviously went to some time and effort to make these belts and the assumption must be they intended those that saw them to believe they were real.

“We have heard from a number of police officers that police officers must work on the basis a belt such as that is real until the contrary is established by somebody like you.

“It would be foolish and dangerous to decide otherwise.”

Mr Short replied: “Yes, sir.”

Mr Horwell went on: “As you have told this jury, even when you were standing above the bodies you worked on the basis that they were real and it is only when you cut the belt and picked them up you appreciated for the first time they were fake.”

The witness agreed, saying: “Until I picked up each of the two devices, yes.”

The court was told the third device was dealt with by a colleague.

Incident at London Bridge
Incident at London Bridge

Jurors have heard how Butt, Redouane and Zaghba had ploughed into pedestrians on London Bridge in a hired van and then stabbed people around Borough Market, killing eight and seriously injuring 48.

In under 10 minutes, they were confronted in Stoney Street by firearms officers who shot them dead.