Friday, December 12, 2008

UK Open Verdict in Police Killing of Brazilian Charles de Menezes

Menezes jury rejects police claim of lawful killing

By Tom Morgan and Margaret Davis, PA
Friday, 12 December 2008

Mr de Menezes was mistaken for a bomber and shot dead

A jury rejected the police account of the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes as the Brazilian's family branded his inquest a "whitewash".

After returning an open verdict today, the 10 jurors rejected a string of claims made by officers about the events leading up to Mr de Menezes being killed.

In a damning indictment, they dismissed claims by firearms officer C12 that he shouted "armed police" before opening fire.

The jury also disputed that 27-year-old Mr de Menezes had walked towards officers before he was killed.

The jurors concluded that six police failings caused or contributed to the innocent man's death.

Firearms officers shot Mr de Menezes at Stockwell Tube station in south London on July 22, 2005, after mistaking him for failed suicide bomber Hussain Osman.

As the jury returned its verdict after its sixth day of deliberations, the Menezes family accused coroner Sir Michael Wright of "presiding over a complete whitewash".

In a stinging attack on the coroner, they said he "failed on every count" during proceedings.

A family statement, released through the Justice4Jean campaign group, said: "After three months of evidence, 100 witnesses and millions of pounds, the coroner, Sir Michael Wright, has presided over a complete whitewash.

"He has failed on every count of the purpose of an inquest investigation."

After recording an open verdict, the jurors, who began considering their verdict at 2.40pm last Thursday, ruled the following:

* Firearms officer C12 did not shout the words "armed police" before opening fire.

* Mr de Menezes stood up from his seat before a surveillance officer, known as Ivor, grabbed him in a bear-hug.

* But the Brazilian did not move towards officer C12 before he was seized by Ivor.

They also concluded that six factors caused his death:

* A failure to obtain and provide better photographic images of the terror suspect Hussain Osman for the surveillance team.

* A failure by the police to ensure that Mr de Menezes was stopped before he reached public transport.

* The fact that the views of the surveillance officers regarding identification were not accurately communicated to the command team and the firearms officers.

* The fact that the position of the cars containing the firearms officers was not accurately known to the command team as the firearms officers were approaching Stockwell Station.

* There were significant shortcomings in the communications system as it was operating on the day between the various police teams on the ground and with New Scotland Yard.

* A failure to conclude, at the time, that surveillance officers should still be used to carry out the stop of Mr de Menezes at Stockwell Station even after it was reported that specialist firearms officers could perform the stop.

But they found that the following two factors did not play a part in his death.

* The general difficulty in providing an identification of the man under surveillance in the time available and in the circumstances after he had left the block at Scotia Road.

* The innocent behaviour of Mr de Menezes which increased the suspicions of some officers.

The jury of five women and five men could not decide whether pressure on the Metropolitan police in the wake of the suicide and attempted terror attacks in July 2005 caused or contributed to his death.

The family's legal team confirmed a judicial appeal against the omission of an unlawful killing verdict was ongoing.

In a new interview his mother, Maria Otone de Menezes, said: "Justice has not been done yet."

She also spoke of her belief that some officers lied to the inquest and called for the resignation of Cressida Dick, the senior policewoman who led the operation that ended in her son's death.

It can be revealed now that the family resolved to have nothing more to do with the inquest and withdrew their legal team after losing a High Court battle to change elements of the terms of the verdicts available to the jury. An appeal to introduce unlawful killing as an option was adjourned.

Proceedings were delayed by half a day by chaotic scenes in and outside court just before the jurors retired last week to consider their verdict.

Three of Mr de Menezes's cousins stood up in the courtroom and revealed T-shirts displaying the message: "Your legal right to decide - unlawful killing verdict."

As the verdict was returned, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) confirmed it would carry out a review.

A statement from the watchdog said: "The IPCC will now review the evidence to see if there are any new issues to consider."

Cheers were heard from Justice4Jean campaigners in the annex at the Oval cricket ground, south London, as the foreman revealed that the jury rejected police claims that the killing was lawful.

The coroner said he was preparing a report following proceedings when he would make his recommendations public.

He added: "It is only right that these proceedings conclude with me expressing sincere condolences to the family of Mr de Menezes.

"On any view in this case, this was a tragic and terrible event, the killing of an entirely innocent young man."

Relatives were not in court for today's verdict.

Responding to the evidence heard at the inquest, Mrs de Menezes, 63, said: "Police officers made a lot of mistakes. There were a lot of failures on their part.

"However, the one who was in command was, in my opinion, the one who made the biggest mistake because she was supposed to be in command of something and whatever she did, she did it wrong."

Mr de Menezes's brother, Giovani da Silva, 36, added: "We will carry on fighting because what we want is justice."

The inquest at the Oval cricket ground in south London heard details of a series of mistakes made by officers in the hours leading up to the fatal shooting.

For the first time the public was given a full account of the incident from key witnesses on board the Underground train where Mr de Menezes was killed.

The Metropolitan Police was under huge pressure after terrorists first murdered 52 innocent people in London on July 7, 2005 and then launched further failed attacks on the capital a fortnight later.

On July 22, the day after the failed second attack, a massive manhunt was under way to find Osman and the other on-the-run bombers amid fears they could attempt to strike again.

Osman's gym card, found in a rucksack abandoned in the attack on Shepherd's Bush Tube station on July 21, led police to a block of flats in Scotia Road in Tulse Hill, south London.

Mr de Menezes, an electrician from a poor Brazilian family who had come to the UK in 2002 to make a better future for himself, was living in the same building with two cousins.

On the morning of July 22, he apparently overslept and did not leave the house until 9.34am, by which time he was late for a job in Kilburn, north London.

The Brazilian jumped on a Number 2 bus and transferred to a Northern Line Underground train at Stockwell station.

But a surveillance officer - who was urinating into a plastic container at the time - had watched him come out of the block of flats and judged that he might be Osman.

Police followed Mr de Menezes all the way to Stockwell, at which point Ms Dick gave the order that he should be stopped before he got onto a train.

At 10.06am the Brazilian was shot dead by police marksmen using hollow-point bullets that killed him instantly.

Surveillance officers on the ground never positively identified Mr de Menezes as Osman, but commanders at New Scotland Yard believed they did.

The inquest heard dramatic evidence from the two police marksmen - who were given anonymity and the code names C2 and C12 - who fired the fatal shots.

C12 broke down in court as he relived the moment he shot Mr de Menezes fearing he was a suicide bomber about to attempt to murder all those around him.

He said: "I did not believe I had an alternative - and if I did not act, members of the public would be killed, my colleagues would be killed and I would be killed."

Scotland Yard witnesses insisted the officers identified themselves by shouting "armed police" after boarding the train at Stockwell, but none of the civilian passengers recalled hearing this.

C2 and C12 expressed their regrets to the Menezes family during the inquest, but colleagues felt they had nothing to apologise for.

Chief Inspector Martin Rush, a senior firearms instructor who led the pair's training, said: "They should be admired but they are actually being vilified and I think that is dreadfully unfortunate."

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said: "The death of Jean Charles de Menezes was a profoundly shocking tragedy and the de Menezes family have my deepest sympathy.

"What we have learnt from the accounts of the tragic events that day reminds us all of the extremely demanding circumstances under which the police work to protect us from further terrorist attack.

"The Metropolitan Police remain in the forefront of the fight against crime and terrorism."

Peter Smyth, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation Chairman, said the firearms officers were under "great" pressure and "believed they were doing the best they could".

At the time of the incident - 15 days after the July 7 London bombings - fears of another terrorist attack were high, he said.

Mr Smyth said: "The officers had not just their own safety to consider but that of hundreds of innocent Londoners who could have become the targets of what, on the information they had available, they believed to be a terrorist who could well have been on the point of mounting an attack.

"It was on this basis they took their fateful decisions. They believed they were doing the very best they could."

The jury of five men and five women came to a majority of eight to two in delivering their open verdict.

Of the remaining 12 questions, the jury were unanimous on all but two of them.

Open verdict at Menezes inquest

The jury has returned an open verdict at the inquest into the death of Jean Charles de Menezes, whom police mistook for a suicide bomber.

It rejected the police account Mr de Menezes was killed lawfully by two officers who shot him seven times at Stockwell Tube in south London.

His mother, Maria Otone de Menezes, said she was very happy and felt "reborn" after hearing the verdict.

The Metropolitan Police said the Brazilian's death was a tragic mistake.

After the verdict was announced the de Menezes family lawyer said officers should be investigated for perjury - a call immediately rejected by the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

The inquest jury was given the choice of two possible verdicts, but chose to reject the option that Mr Menezes was killed lawfully by the police.

Earlier in the inquest the jury was instructed not to return a verdict of unlawful killing.

'Feel reborn'

The 10 jury members were asked 12 specific questions about whether or not a series of events on 22 July 2005 contributed to the 27-year-old's death.

After a week of deliberations, a majority of eight to two returned an open verdict and said they did not believe officers had shouted "armed police" before opening fire.

They said they believed Mr de Menezes had stood up from his seat before being shot. However they did not believe he had moved towards the first officer who opened fire.

They also rejected that Mr de Menezes' innocent behaviour had increased suspicions.

Mrs de Menezes said in a message sent from her home in Brazil: "I am very happy with the verdict. Since the moment the coroner ruled out unlawful killing, I was feeling very sad. But today I feel reborn."

Mr de Menezes' cousin Patricia da Silva Armani, speaking in London, said: "Today is an important day for our family. We have spoken to the whole family in Brazil and they like us are vindicated by the jury's verdict.

"It's clear the jury would have reached an unlawful killing verdict if they had not been gagged by the coroner.

"Mistakes of the police are now clear. Action must be taken against the officers responsible."

'Shocking tragedy'

Following the verdict, the Acting Met Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson said Mr de Menezes' death had been a "most terrible mistake", which he "deeply regretted".

"He was an innocent man and we must accept full responsibility for his death," he said.

He said the force now had to "learn from events to minimise the chances of this ever happening again".

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said the death was "a profoundly shocking tragedy".

"What we have learnt from the accounts of the tragic events that day reminds us all of the extremely demanding circumstances under which the police work to protect us from further terrorist attack," she added.

Coroner Sir Michael Wright, who presided over the three-month inquest held at the Oval cricket ground in London, had previously said the facts did not justify allowing the jury to consider an unlawful killing.

Throughout the inquest, Metropolitan Police officers told the hearings they honestly believed the Brazilian was one of the four failed bombers who attempted to strike London on 21 July 2005.

But Mr de Menezes' family and supporters challenged this version of events.

They said they wanted answers to why surveillance officers could not identify the man they were following - and why two specialist officers shot the electrician at close range.

'Numerous obstacles'

De Menezes family lawyer Harriet Wistrich said the police officers who claimed to have shouted warnings before firing should be investigated for possible perjury.

"There was certainly evidence of perjury by certain officers and the CPS should look at it again at this stage and I am sure they will," she said.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) said Ms Wistrich was incorrect.

A spokesman said: "It is wrong to construe that there has been possible perjury from the findings of the jury because they were asked to decide on the balance of probability.

"The jury could not indicate whether they believed certain witnesses were mistaken or lied."

Asad Rehman, of the Justice4Jean campaign, said the jury had been "gagged" by not being able to return a verdict of unlawful killing.

"There were numerous obstacles placed in the path of that jury. The coroner failed to resist the incredible pressure put on him by the five separate police legal teams and the jury was prevented from considering all the verdicts including unlawful killing," he said.

'Proportionate actions'

Police Federation chairman Paul McKeever said the verdict marked the end of "a long and traumatic inquiry" for the de Menezes family and the police.

"The officers involved in this incident believed their actions were proportionate and necessary from the information available to them at the time," he said.

Chief Constable Ken Jones, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, said the officers were "breaking new ground in their determination to confront men believed to be intent on mass murder".

"They went forward and did what they sincerely believed to be right to protect us. They went forward believing that, at any moment, they might be killed," he said.

IPCC chairman Nick Hardwick described Mr de Menezes' death as "truly shocking", adding that police needed to make operational changes.

Judicial review

The de Menezes family called on the CPS to re-examine the case to see whether a criminal prosecution could be brought.

They also want the IPCC to review their inquiry into the death in respect of disciplinary action against police officers and are calling on the home secretary to suspend the "shoot-to-kill" policy.

They plan to apply for judicial review of the coroner's decision not to offer the jury the option of returning a verdict of unlawful killing.

The CPS, which decided in 2006 that no police officers should face criminal prosecution over the killing, said it would "consider the verdicts and any fresh evidence very carefully and decide whether we need to review our decision".

The coroner will write to the acting commissioner, the home secretary and the Metropolitan Police Authority to raise issues over police practices.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2008/12/12 16:56:35 GMT

No comments: