Armed policeman feared London Bridge attacker ‘would get hold of my weapons’
An armed officer who shot dead the ringleader of the London Bridge attack has told an inquest he feared the suspect would “stab me, kill me and get hold of my weapons”.
But when he noticed Khuram Butt had what appeared to be a suicide belt, he realised he was an “even bigger threat” to everyone in the area.
Giving evidence anonymously at the Old Bailey, the City of London officer, identified only as BX46, described the events leading up to the moment he pulled the trigger of his Carbine rifle.
On June 3 2017, he had been on a 12-hour shift and was travelling in an armed response vehicle with colleagues BX44 and BX45.
The officer, who qualified as a firearms specialist in 2013, told jurors he was armed with a Glock 17 pistol, a Taser and a G36 Carbine rifle.
When the call came in of pedestrians being struck by a van on London Bridge, he “feared the worst”.
He said: “We decided to attend the location believing it may be a similar or a copycat attack as what we had seen at Westminster Bridge.
“I feared the worst knowing what happened a couple of months prior. We made our way to that location and it transpired to be what it unfortunately was.”
Jonathan Hough QC, for the coroner, said: “Armed terrorist attacks.”
He replied: “Yes it was.”
He explained how Operation Plato was declared for a “marauding terrorist attack” and his role was to “identify, locate, confront and neutralise” the suspects.
Describing the confrontation in Stoney Street at Borough Market, he said: “I had my window down as would be the norm in approaching an incident such as this and I could hear members of the public saying ‘they’re stabbing people'”.
He said they had a look of “terror, fear and concern” on their faces.
“I could see a lot of commotion and a lot of people. My initial reaction was a bar fight that had spilled out into the street.
“I could see either a chair or bollard being thrown but I could not see what was the cause of this commotion.
“My next recollection is seeing an Asian male in front of our car wearing a blue Arsenal football shirt. His attention seemed to be on our car and I could see he had a large knife in his hand.
“I formed the view he was an immediate threat to me and I would have said words to the effect ‘armed police, stand still, drop the knife’.”
He told jurors the whole incident lasted a matter of seconds and he had hoped to “dominate him verbally”, but the suspect’s response was to come towards him.
The officer said he moved back to create a gap but Butt came forward to be one or two metres away from him.
He said: “I believe his intention was to use the knife and stab me, kill me and get hold of my weapons.
“The knife was in a raised position, which gave me great concern.
“At this point I was aware that around his torso he was wearing an improvised explosive device.
“I already knew he had a knife and he was a threat to my life but now he was an even bigger threat, even with one or two metres a detonation would be fatal to colleagues, members of the public, anyone in the location.
“So I aimed my rifle towards the male and I was moving back quickly and I moved the fire lever to fire and I pulled the trigger.”
BX46 said he was not aiming at any particular part of Butt’s body as he was still moving backwards quickly and was “off balance”.
He told jurors he fired a “number of shots”, adding: “I stopped firing when the male fell to the floor in front of me.”
The officer looked around and saw his two colleagues were dealing with the other suspects.
BX46 said he saw his colleague BX44 fire towards the Wheatsheaf pub, near where Butt had collapsed.
Mr Hough said there had been fears Butt was moving and could be about to detonate his suicide belt.
The inquest has heard that one pub-goer was inadvertently injured by a stray bullet.
BX46 saw Butt moving his head off the ground as he lay injured, he said.
He told jurors: “I used lethal force to avert the danger of him detonating his device. I took an aimed shot to his head.”
In all, BX46 said he discharged six rounds.
BX44 told jurors how the London Bridge attack was his first firearms incident and he was tasked with handing out the weapons in the ARV.
As he got out at Stoney Street, he saw three Asian men with large knives emerging from a crowd “closing us down”, he said.
He told jurors he fired first at Butt because “I thought he was about to kill BX46”.
“The red dot (from the gun’s sights) was on him but there was very little reaction and I was surprised he was still coming.
“I continued to track him and fire shots until I had to break away to deal with Rachid Redouane who at this point closed us down and was about to kill another colleague, BX45.
“The red dot was on him. I fired shots and there was no immediate reaction. I carried on firing until I had to deal with the third threat of Youssef Zaghba who was on top of me.
“I was backing away trying to create a reactionary gap when I fired and fell backwards and as I fell backwards I fired and from the floor I fired through my legs up to his chest.
“I thought he was about to kill me.”
Afterwards, he kicked Zaghba’s hand away from his chest, as he assumed he was about to detonate an explosive belt, before moving on to support BX46, he said.
Butt, 27, Redouane, 30, and Zaghba, 22, were all shot 10 minutes after embarking on a van and knife attack which left eight dead and 48 injured.
Their Old Bailey inquest has heard how they had ploughed their van through pedestrians on London Bridge.
Having crashed into railings, they got out wearing fake suicide vests and rampaged around Borough Market, stabbing random members of the public.