A rookie firearms officer fell over and shot one of the London Bridge terrorists through his legs fearing he was about to be killed, an inquest has heard.
The City of London Police officer, known as BX44, told jurors the confrontation with Khuram Butt, 27, Rachid Redouane, 30, and Youssef Zaghba, 22, was his first spontaneous firearms incident.
As he got out at Stoney Street at Borough Market, he saw three Asian men with large knives emerging from a crowd “closing us down”, he said.
He fired first at Butt because he thought he was about to kill his colleague BX46, who was first out of their Armed Response Vehicle (ARV).
Giving evidence anonymously at the Old Bailey, BX44 said: “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.
BX44 told how minutes after the first burst of gunfire he saw Butt’s chest rise and fall.
He said: “I did not see his hands but his arms started to move down slowly towards the suicide vest.
“I thought he was going to detonate. I fired shots. They were aimed shots.
“I thought he was dead and officers were in the process of moving up to the Wheatsheaf pub to evacuate and during that I again noticed movement and took further shots.”
BX44, who fired 17 shots, went on to help in a search for a fourth possible attacker, carried a woman having a seizure to safety, and found three people in a cupboard during a search of the nearby Black and Blue restaurant.
Driver BX45 told the court: “As soon as I stopped the ARV, two males started running towards where I was getting out of the driver’s side.
“They were very close to me indeed, a matter of a metre or two. Both males had knives in their hands. I recall seeing one of them had what I believed was an IED (improvised explosive device) strapped to his chest.
“I shouted a verbal warning. It was a matter of a split second and the person was on top of me. I thought I was either going to be stabbed or his IED would explode. I shot the male. I continued shooting until the male hit the floor.”
Amid the fast paced incident, BX45 said the handbrake on his ARV had not been put on and the car slowly rolled forward, ran over his left foot and stopped about 15 metres away.
BX46, who qualified as a firearms specialist in 2013, told jurors that he “feared the worst” – a copycat terror attack like Westminster – when he was first alerted.
He initially thought it was a “bar fight” before he came across Butt, wearing an Arsenal football shirt, carrying a knife.
“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 tried to “dominate him verbally”, the officer said, but as he moved back to create a gap, Butt came forward to within one or two metres.
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 selector 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”.
Later, BX46 notice Butt lifting his head, he said: “I used lethal force to avert the danger of him detonating his device. I took an aimed shot to his head.”
The attackers were shot 10 minutes after embarking on the van and knife attack which left eight dead and 48 injured.
The inquest has heard that one pub-goer in the Wheatsheaf was inadvertently injured by a stray bullet.