A British Muslim whose partner died in the London bombs on 7 July last year has confronted the father of the suicide bomber responsible and uncovered the first real insight into the trauma the bombers have heaped upon their own families, as well as the bereaved.
Gous Ali, whose partner Neetu Jain died when Hasib Hussain, 18, blew up the number 30 bus a year ago tomorrow, was consumed with a sense of anger before approaching Mahmood Hussain at his home in Holbeck, Leeds. But in the extraordinary half-hour conversation, detailed by a BBC journalist who accompanied him, Mr Hussain ended up pouring out his family's lingering sense of alienation and bewilderment.
Mr Hussain told Mr Ali. "Every day we are ... in the dark, not understanding what has happened and why we are in the dark, looking for answers."
The conversation in Mr Hussain's front garden, which Mr Ali will describe on BBC1's Real Story documentary tomorrow evening, also reveals Mr Hussain to be in a state of profound denial, one year on from the attacks, though he did tell Mr Ali that if knew his son could do such a thing he would have "broken his legs," put him "in prison" or done "something horrible to him to stop him".
The conversation provides a sense of how completely fooled he had been by his son and his fellow bombers, Shahzad Tanweer and Mohammad Sidique Khan, who set off together from Leeds for London in the early hours of 7 July.
Mr Hussain revealed that on the day before the bombings Hasib had told him: "Dad, I'm going to London with my friends." Mr Hussain said he had had suggested his son take his two friends to the London Eye. He also seems to have known both Tanweer and Khan. "They used to come here," he told Mr Ali. "I've not seen them properly but I knew they went to mosque. They were good boys."
His 18-year-old son was in the middle of a course of driving lessons when he left on the fateful trip to London, Mr Hussain said. "He planned to go to college. All those plans he had. Hasib was just the same as he had always been."
Mr Hussain's denial astonishes Mr Ali. "He was describing the three bombers as 'good boys'," he said. "This seemed bizarre, surreal"
After arriving in London, Hussain boarded the same bus as Ms Jain, 37, a British Hindu who was making her way to her office in Old Street. The bomb was detonated at 9.47am, 57 minutes after the London Underground blasts.
Mr Ali went to the Hussains' house on Wednesday last week to tackle them about their son after his written approaches - some in Urdu - elicited no reply.
He had anticipated having to knock on the family's door in Holbeck but instead came across Mr Hussain in his front garden.
Mr Ali did not mince his words. "Do you know who I am?" he asked. "Your son killed my partner."
At first, there was conflict. Mr Hussain stepped back towards his door, where his family had gathered. "I don't want to talk to you. Why do you speak to me like this? Why have you come to my door like this," he said.
"You haven't even shown any respect to me by apologising," Mr Ali replied.
Hasib's elder brother, Imran, was clearly unhappy about the approach and Mr Ali began to leave. But Mr Hussain chided his son and indicated he was prepared to speak. "Why was Hasib on the bus?" began Mr Ali. And then Mr Hussain's emotions started tumbling out. "Forgive me, but it's no good just coming in and saying your son killed my partner," Mr Hussain said. "We are the victims, too - and in the same position as you are. I tell you the truth. I can't say I sympathise with you with your situation because there's no words can replace your loss; no sympathy can do that.
"But we are decent people. I worked hard all my life. Please, please, please don't say it's something to do with me, or that I knew, my son knew, my wife knew. We are very, very decent people. I think it must have been somebody else on the bus. Not Hasib. He was a good boy. There's not a shred of evidence that he was involved in it."
The Hussains' struggle to accept that Hasib blew up the bus has been compounded by telephone conversations they have had in the past 12 months with conspiracy theorists who claim the London attacks were a "black psy-ops" mission organised by the security services to test London's defences, or to foment anti-Muslim feeling.
The Hussains have clung to those theories - and have been prepared to discuss little else during several lengthy conversations with The Independent. Mr Hussain clearly craves more contact with the police who broke the news of his son's death a year ago. He told Mr Ali that he has asked police family liaison officers for permission to approach the victims' families but has been refused. "They told us, 'No one wants to talk with you'," he said.
"We are grieving for the relatives of the 52 victims as well," he concluded.
It was the closest he came to an apology and, with that, Mr Ali shook hands with the bomber's father and brother and took his leave.
Mr Ali said he still felt "a huge emptiness" after a conversation in which Mr Hussain "talked more about his loss and his situation than mine." Despite nightmares about exacting revenge on the Hussains he found himself "standing next to this chap to whom I could not be impolite and who I... ended up counselling."
He said: "When it came down to it, I just could not bear to be horrible to him."Reuse content