Socialist Worker

Jean Charles de Menezes: Shot, then slandered and still no justice

by Simon Basketter
Issue No. 2131

On 22 July 2005, Jean Charles de Menezes was shot seven times in the head and once in the shoulder with hollow tip bullets by police who had followed him on to a tube train at Stockwell, south London.

The recent inquest is the fourth investigation into his killing. It follows two reports by the Independent Police Complaints Commission and a health and safety trial in which the Metropolitan Police was fined £175,000 – after it was convicted under the Health and Safety Act of “endangering the public”.

But after all of this, Jean Charles’ family seem to be no closer to winning justice.

The coroner, Sir Michael Wright, said that having heard all the evidence, a verdict of unlawful killing was “not justified”. The family’s legal team withdrew from the inquest and relatives carried out a silent protest.

The jury may now return either an open or lawful killing verdict. They had not decided as Socialist Worker went to press.

Wright told the hearing, “In directing you that you cannot return a verdict of unlawful killing, I am not saying that nothing went wrong in a police operation which resulted in the killing of an innocent man.”

He added, “All interested persons agree that a verdict of unlawful killing could only be left to you if you could be sure that a specific officer had committed a very serious crime – murder or manslaughter.”

The prospect of having to face the consequences of their actions is what makes the police institutionally hostile to the unlawful killing verdict.

But even this verdict has its limits.

Unlawful

It is worth recalling that in 1999 Harry Stanley was on his way home to his family in Hackney, east London, when he was shot dead by two police officers. In 2004 an inquest returned a verdict of “unlawful killing”.

The two officers were suspended. But the verdict was later overturned in the High Court after protests by police officers.

Wright warned the jury not to be swayed by the feelings of the family. “These are emotional reactions, ladies and gentlemen, and you are charged with returning a verdict based on evidence,” he said. “Put aside any emotion.”

Yet at other times he did find room for emotion.

When reminding the jurors of the evidence of officer C12, one of those who fired the shots into Jean Charles’ head, he told them, “This tough, fit, highly trained, mature man broke down in tears and this fact may assist you in assessing the depth of the emotional experience that he was going through here when he was reliving the terrible events of July 22 [2005].”

The evidence given by 100 witnesses at the inquest has revealed a number of things about the way that the criminal justice system operates and how it protects some people but not others.

Some police officers altered their evidence. Some have had to retract or change sections of their evidence after it was shown to be false.

There were contradictions between the accounts of the surveillance officers and firearms officers.

And many officers were allowed to give evidence anonymously and from behind screens.

Even in the last week it has come to light that police wrongly claimed they were unable to access photographs which could have ruled out Jean Charles as a suspect.

One major contradiction shown up by the inquest is police officers’ claims that they shouted a warning before shooting Jean Charles.

The two marksmen who shot Jean Charles insisted they shouted “armed police” before opening fire.

But all the passengers who gave evidence said they heard no warning.

It is worth remembering that after the shooting the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) remarked that the police had released “incorrect information”.

The media used this “information” to run stories saying that Jean Charles was an illegal immigrant – this too was a lie. It was claimed that Jean Charles was wearing a bulky jacket – apparently leading the police to think he was concealing a bomb – this too was a lie. It was claimed he had jumped over the ticket barrier – again, this was a lie.

Killed

Within hours of Jean Charles being killed, officers not connected to the case heard of a “massive cock-up” and that a “Brazilian tourist” had been shot. But apparently nobody told Ian Blair, the then commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.

Following the shooting Cressida Dick, the commander in charge of the operation that ordered the shooting, was promoted. The Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman, described by the IPCC as having lied over the case, was awarded a CBE.

For all the talk of the “difficult atmosphere” in the run-up to the shooting, the fact remains that an innocent man was gunned down by rampaging police officers whose intention was to kill him.

And there is still no sign of anyone being held responsible.


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