Socialist Worker

A catalogue of failures that killed Jean Charles de Menezes

by Simon Basketter
Issue No. 2076

To say that the police officers who followed 27 year old electrician Jean Charles de Menezes into a London tube train “undermined his health and safety” is something of an understatement.

In July 2005, one officer leapt on the Brazilian and pinned him to his seat. Then another two rushed up close enough to touch him with their handguns.

Five hollow-point bullets – designed to pour all their force into a victim without coming out the other side – went into the back of his head, one blasted into his neck and another into his shoulder.

But rather than being the suicide bomber that the police claimed he was, Jean Charles was just an innocent man taking the train to work.

Nobody from London’s Metropolitan Police has faced criminal charges or internal punishment over his death

The jury at the Old Bailey court last week found that the force did indeed place Jean Charles and other members of the public at risk by mixing him up with a potential suicide bomber, allowing him to board two buses and a train, and then deciding to kill him.

Finger

The court did not point the finger at any individual police officer but it hit Scotland Yard with a £175,000 fine.

In returning the verdict, jurors added that they attached “no personal culpability” to Commander Cressida Dick, the officer in charge of the operation that led to the shooting.

The guilty verdict carried a potentially unlimited fine. But in sentencing, Justice Henriques said he was aware that any fine could have a “deleterious effect” on the ability of the police to “protect the public and apprehend offenders”.

He added that the force had been engaged in a “unique and difficult operation”.

Even the Tories and the Financial Times responded to the verdict by calling for the resignation of Metropolitan Police commissioner Ian Blair. But Blair refuses to go – and Gordon Brown and London mayor Ken Livingstone are still publicly backing him.

Livingstone said the health and safety verdict made it more difficult for police to protect the capital against terrorism.

He backed Blair, describing him as “an incredibly talented officer” who had modernised the Met and brought down crime.

In a letter to the home secretary Jacqui Smith urging her not to sack Blair, Livingstone wrote, “The work done by Sir Ian and the anti-terrorist squad has been outstanding.”

Blair told reporters outside court, “If this court case had shown that there were systemic failures in the Metropolitan Police service, then I would consider my position.”

But it had not, he said. Asked how the killing could have ­happened if no individual was to blame and there were no structural flaws in the police force, Blair said, “Sometimes that’s what happens.”

The judge was harsher, saying the tragedy was caused by a “corporate failure, not an individual failure”.

Ronald Thwaites QC, the police’s defence lawyer, said Jean Charles was shot because he “reacted precisely as [police] had been briefed a suicide bomber might react at the point of detonating his bomb”.

Thwaites claimed Jean Charles had acted in an “aggressive and threatening” way, although several of the 17 commuters in the carriage said he had shown no aggression at all and none heard the police call out to de Menezes.

Within 15 minutes of his death, an explosives expert confirmed Jean Charles had no bomb, and his wallet and mobile phone had been found with evidence of his true identity.

Yet Blair claimed for a further 24 hours that the dead man had been involved in a terror plot, even though dozens of more junior police later admitted they knew within hours that the dead man had been innocent.

Blair explained later that he had not lied – he had just been “almost totally uninformed”.

Giovanni da Silva, Jean Charles’s brother, said he was pleased with the outcome of the case – but described it as just the start of the family’s campaign for justice.

Harriet Wistrich, the family’s solicitor, said, “The police defence team descended to the gutter, seeking to shift the blame onto the innocent victim from their own wrongdoing.

“We deplore the tactics of the defence and the smearing of Jean Charles’s name.

“Any attempt to salvage the image of the Metropolitan Police by those in senior positions publicly apologising for their errors has been undermined by the defence put forward.”

Sacked

At the very least all the senior police officers involved in the shooting should be sacked and prosecuted.

Dick has been promoted. Assistant commissioner Andy Hayman, who according to an Independent Police Complaints Commission report “chose to mislead the public by his actions” and misled senior officers, was given a CBE.

The Metropolitan Police Authority should be disbanded. This is the authority that has promoted officers involved in the case. It will decide what, if any, sanctions those officers will eventually face.

The officers who shot Jean Charles are back on firearms duty, with one having subsequently killed an armed robber.

Most importantly of all, there is still no explanation as to why an innocent man walking to a tube station was hunted down and shot dead and why the police lied about it afterwards.


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Tue 6 Nov 2007, 18:49 GMT
Issue No. 2076
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