The Shooters: 'At the time I fired I believed that everyone was about to die'

As the CO19 firearms officers C2 and C12 left the blood-spattered carriage of the Northern line Tube train shortly after 10am on 22 July 2005, their initial feelings were of relief. Minutes earlier they had, for the first time in their lengthy careers, opened fire on a suspect and in doing so stopped a suicide bomber killing everyone on board the train; or so they thought.

But at noon the next day they learnt that the man they had killed was not a terrorist intent on killing London commuters, but a 27-year-old Brazilian electrician running late for work.

And three years later, the two CO19 specialist firearms officers, known only by their codenames, are still living with the consequences of their actions. "I think about it every day," C2 told the inquest. His colleague C12 added: "I am responsible for the death of an innocent man. That is something I have to live with for the rest of my life."

Both C2 and C12 are experienced officers. C2 joined the Metropolitan Police in 1985, became a firearms officer in 1988 and graduated to become a specialist firearms officer in 1991. Since 1996 he has been a national firearms instructor. His colleague, C12, joined the force in 1983, the firearms team in 1996 and became an SFO in 1998. He said he joined the firearms unit for the "camaraderie, the challenging aspects of the role, the training and the team work, but primarily being involved in a close working environment".

Their team leader on the day of Mr de Menezes's death, codenamed Ralph, said he had worked with the pair for more than 10 years. He told the court they were married, family men, described them as "professional, dedicated and committed" and "in my view, 120 per cent trustworthy". But despite their experience neither of the men had fired at a suspect before they killed Mr de Menezes. Between them, they shot Mr de Menezes seven times in the head while a colleague pinned him to a chair. C12 shot him three times, and C2 fired six bullets, two of which missed. Both officers have resumed active firearms duty and one has shot dead an armed robber at a building society in Kent, in October 2006.

Before the inquest, neither man had spoken publicly about Mr de Menezes's death. Both were accused of lying about the shooting. Michael Mansfield QC said they were embellishing their stories to convince those listening that they believed they had shot a suicide bomber as opposed to an innocent man. But the officers denied this. C12 said that on learning he had killed an innocent man he was overcome with "a sense of disbelief and of shock, sadness, confusion". He added: "Everything I have ever trained for ... proved wrong. I am a family man and to lose a son or any member of your family in this situation, I just couldn't believe it. And I offer my sincere condolences for that; I really, really respectfully do that."

C2 said: "I would just like to say that I am a father and if he were my son I would be utterly devastated." He added: "At the time I fired I believed that I, and everyone else, was about to die."

But the officers are still seen by some as the villains of the tragedy. Their chief firearms instructor, Martin Rush, said: "I have nothing but admiration for them. They should be admired, but they are actually being vilified and that is dreadfully unfortunate."