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Officer diverted from search for victim, terror inquest told

Police constable Nicholas Bultitude and his crew carried out a
Police constable Nicholas Bultitude and his crew carried out a "hasty search" having arrived first, some three minutes after reports of somebody in the water (stock photo)

By Emily Pennink

A marine police officer was diverted from the river search for a victim of the London Bridge terror attack after concluding he was "probably lost", an inquest has heard.

Police and lifeboats were deployed to the scene after Xavier Thomas (45) was hit by the terrorists' hire van and catapulted into the Thames, the Old Bailey heard.

Mr Thomas was the first victim of the attack, which ended just under 10 minutes later when three terrorists were shot dead near Borough Market.

The Frenchman's body was not recovered until three days later. He died from immersion in the water.

Police constable Nicholas Bultitude and his crew carried out a "hasty search" having arrived first, some three minutes after reports of somebody in the water.

He later diverted away from the more structured search with lifeboats so he could warn crowds on the south bank of the danger.

Mr Bultitude said it was not practicable to seek approval for the move but there was evidence he informed the coastguard.

He went on to escort injured victim Sasha Flanders to St Thomas' Hospital after finding her in the Old Thameside Inn where up to 100 people were on lockdown.

Dominic Adamson, representing the family of Mr Thomas, questioned the officer's decision to abandon the river search shortly after gunshots were heard.

He said: "You hear the gunfire at 22.16 and so it would appear that really very shortly after that your attempts were distracted to deal with people on the riverside."

The officer replied: "Yes. So I arrived on the scene. I carried out a search of the river and I was satisfied if anyone was in the river floating on the surface in the vicinity of London Bridge we would have found it.

"When I made the decision, so far as I was concerned, if someone has gone in then tragically they are lost. I made the decision to depart from it."

Mr Adamson asked: "You had already made the determination?"

The witness replied: "Xavier had probably already been lost if there was no one in the river. That was a factor in my thought process."

He insisted it was "just and right" to leave the lifeboats to continue the search without the assistance of his 31ft fast patrol boat.

The officer said Ms Flanders had suffered a wound to the neck and lacerations that needed medical care.

He said ambulances would not have been able to reach her but it only took five minutes at full speed to reach St Thomas' by boat.

The officer told the court conditions were "clear", visibility was "very good" and the tide was almost at its highest point.

Mr Bultitude added: "I'm convinced if Xavier had been on the surface of the river, we would have recovered him."

He insisted the "unfortunately named" hasty search was "not shoddy in any way".

"We covered every inch of that river in a desperate attempt to recover anyone in there," he said.

Mr Bultitude was also quizzed on why he did not make use of his infrared camera and relied instead on his crew scanning the water.

He said it was "impractical" to use the infrared camera in the search and drive the boat at the same time.

Mr Adamson said: "You can understand why there is some concern that a resource available to you was not used."

Asked if it was antiquated equipment, the officer said: "It's probably current but whether it's the best bit of kit we have got, I don't know."

Ben Hayday, senior coastguard officer, told the court there were four vessels involved in the structured search in the night of June 3, 2017 and he was "comfortable" with releasing one.

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