De Menezes officer breaks down in court

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LONDON, Oct 16 (Reuters) The head of the police team that fatally shot an innocent Brazilian after mistaking him for a suicide bomber, broke down in court today as he defended his squad's actions.

The senior officer, named ''Ralph'' to protect his identity, told the Old Bailey he was ''very proud'' of his team despite shooting Jean Charles de Menezes seven times in the head.

The 27-year-old was gunned down as he boarded an underground train in south London on July 22, 2005, by officers who had wrongly identified him as one of four men who tried to attack the London transport system the day before.

The botched suicide bombings -- just two weeks after four young British Islamists killed themselves and 52 people on three underground trains and a bus in the capital's worst peacetime attack -- had sparked a frantic manhunt.

De Menezes, an electrician, coincidently lived in the same block of flats as Hussein Osman, one of four men jailed earlier this year for plotting the unsuccessful July 21 attacks.

No individual police officer is being prosecuted but the London police force as a whole has been charged with breaking health and safety laws over the killing.

It denies the charge.

Giving evidence on Tuesday from behind a screen, the court heard ''Ralph'' defend his officers' handling of the incident.

The jury heard a statement made by the officer, where he insisted his team thought they were risking their lives to prevent another suicide bombing.

His statement simply ended: ''I hope that is not forgotten.'' Asked by Ronald Thwaites, for the force, what he thought about being a prosecution witness, he started sobbing in the witness box.

Mr Justice Henriques, the trial judge, simply said: ''I think the response speaks for itself.'' The officer, who was passed a box of tissues, then added: ''Despite the outcome, I was very proud of them (the officers).'' The officer, who was in charge of the crack CO19 firearms officers who chased de Menezes into Stockwell tube station, said they thought he was one of the would-be suicide bombers.

Everyone else had cleared out of the tube station, he said.

''We were going forward to deal with this in order to protect the public, even though this man could have had a device on him,'' he said.

Prosecutors have described the shooting as a ''shocking and catastrophic error''.

The trial continues.

Reuters GL RN2026

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