A fireman serving a 14-year jail sentence for his part in a massive drugs ring was hailed today for his bravery in rescuing victims of the 7/7 bus bombing.
Simon Ford, 41, described how he and a colleague "manhandled" the mangled remains of the number 30 bus to free an horrifically-wounded passenger.
He also spoke of his despair when the man apparently died in their arms as they pulled him from the wreckage - although it later turned out he survived for another week.
Ford gave evidence to the inquest into the July 7 2005 suicide attacks on London via videolink from the unnamed prison where he is serving a jail term for his key role in a £100 million cocaine ring.
He said he felt "isolated" and was off work with stress for five weeks after attending the bus bombing in London's Tavistock Square, in which 13 people died.
Coroner Lady Justice Hallett told him: "Mr Ford, whatever has happened in your life since 2005, no one can doubt the courage you displayed on July 7 2005.
"I do appreciate your being prepared to help me in these proceedings. I know it means a lot to the bereaved families and to those who you helped rescue.
"So thank you very much for all that you did that day."
Ford and fellow firefighter Kevin Hume were sent to Tavistock Square from Soho fire station minutes after terrorist Hasib Hussain, 18, blew himself up on the number 30 at 9.47am.
The jailed fireman recalled the scene of "utter devastation and utter horror" that met them.
"We could see the bus had exploded and obviously we could see body parts and torsos and debris everywhere," he said.
"So it's not a usual scene we turn up to - it was quite shocking."
After helping to move casualties who were in the street, the two firefighters climbed on to the bus to look for survivors despite warnings from police that there could be another bomb on board.
Among the passengers they evacuated was Sam Ly, 28, who had been sitting downstairs and was trapped when part of the upper deck collapsed on top of him.
Mr Hume said they ripped apart the metalwork of the bus with their hands to free Mr Ly.
He told the inquest: "He had some of the bodywork and some sort of metal pipe blocking him from coming out easily.
"Obviously the bomb had weakened the structure of the bus so I was able to tear some of the bodywork and bend the pieces of metal enough so that he could be lifted free."
Ford added: "He was in and out of consciousness, and I thought he died in our arms. But I have found out it was a week later.
"But it was upsetting, I thought he had gone."
Mr Ly, a Vietnamese-born computer technician from Melbourne, Australia, was treated at the scene and taken to hospital but died from his injuries on July 14.
Ford said the two firefighters also freed a woman and another man, using one of the bus's blown-out windows as a makeshift stretcher to move them to safety.
The second man they rescued was Mark Beck, who lost his right leg in the blast and was drifting in and out of consciousness as they released him from the wreckage.
Ford paid tribute to Mr Beck's "tremendous courage and strength" in stretching out towards the firemen so they could release him from the sheet of metal trapping him in place.
After freeing all the casualties who were still alive, the firefighters did not go back on the bus because of the risk that there could be a secondary device primed to explode.
Ford told the inquest he was unable to discuss his horrific experiences that day with the other members of his shift because they were sent to the separate attack on a Tube train between King's Cross and Russell Square stations.
"We would talk about everything as a fire station and as a watch, but on this occasion I just felt a little bit isolated because I wasn't at the same incident as them. I wish they were with me," he said.
Ford, a former drug addict, received a London Fire Brigade Gold Award for his bravery on the day of the bombings.
But police arrested him in February 2008 as part of a series of raids on drugs gangs across London and the Home Counties.
He was caught red-handed at his flat in Chertsey, Surrey, as he divided more than 100kg (220lb) of cocaine, worth around £5.5 million, for delivery to a ring of couriers waiting at service stations around the M25.
The inquest also heard today that survivors of the bus bombing looked like "zombies" as they stumbled to safety after the blast.
The attacks launched on July 7, 2005 by Hussain, Mohammed Sidique Khan, 30, Shehzad Tanweer, 22, and Jermaine Lindsay, 19, were the worst single terrorist atrocity on British soil.
As well as killing themselves and 52 others, the bombers injured more than 700 people.
The inquest at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, which began in October and is due to finish in March, was adjourned until tomorrow.
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