Saturday, December 13, 2008

Menezes: Did the police lie?

An inquest into the death of Jean Charles de Menezes has refused to rule that the young Brazilian was lawfully killed and has instead returned an open verdict. The coroner controversially decided to remove the option for the jury to return a verdict of unlawful killing to the anger of the Menezes family. This verdict certainly makes one wonder whether or not the jury would have returned a verdict of unlawful killing were that option left open to them.

The jury also found that the police had lied when they gave evidence to the inquest.

Returning an open verdict at the end of the 12-week inquest, the jurors contradicted evidence given by seven firearms and surveillance officers when they answered a series of 13 questions put to them by the coroner.

In particular, they said they refused to believe that the first officer to open fire, codenamed C12, had shouted a warning of "armed police" first. They also rejected the officer's claim that the Brazilian had walked towards him.

The police have not come out of this well. Soon after Jean Charles was killed a series of leaks attempted to blacken his name, stating that he was in the country illegally, that drugs had been found in his bloodstream, that he had jumped a barrier in Stockwell tube station etc, the latter actually turned out to be false, but all gave the impression that the police (or someone working on their behalf) was seeking to make the young Brazilian appear to be responsible for his own death.

But almost as soon as this inquest began huge discrepancies appeared in the police version of what transpired that day, the most important being that no passengers on the train heard the warning which police insisted they shouted before shooting Jean Charles de Menenzes.

The jury have now made clear that they do not believe the police's version of events and lawyers acting on behalf of the Menezes family have asked that some police officers should be charged with perjury, however anyone who thinks that individual officers will be charged is living on another planet.

The most obvious lesson from this case is that the police protect their own and the Guardian are even leading this morning with a story saying that the officers who shot Menezes are being returned to duty because the jury have found that they did not lie when they claimed that Jean Charles de Menezes stood up when they entered the train. The fact that the jury rejected much more important parts of the officer's evidence shows to what degree they are grasping at straws here.

Here are the 12 questions which the jury answered:

1) Did officer C12 shout "Armed police" at Mr de Menezes before firing? Jury's answer: No

2) Did Mr de Menezes stand before he was bear-hugged by officer Ivor?Jury: Yes

3) Did Mr de Menezes move towards C12 before he was grabbed by Ivor? Jury: No

4) Do you consider that any of the following factors caused or contributed to the death of Mr de Menezes?

a) The suicide attacks and attempted attacks of July 2005 and the pressure on the Metropolitan Police in responding to the threat.Jury: Cannot decide

b) A failure to obtain and provide better photographic images of the suspect, Hussain Osman, for the surveillance team.Jury: Yes

c) A failure by police to ensure Mr de Menezes was stopped before he reached public transport.Jury: Yes

d) The difficulty in providing an identification of the man under surveillance [Mr de Menezes] in the time available and in the circumstances after he left Scotia Road.Jury: No

e) The innocent behaviour of Mr de Menezes which increased the suspicions of some officers. Jury: No

f) The fact that the views of the surveillance officers regarding identification were not accurately communicated to the command team and the firearms officers.Jury: Yes

g) 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 underground station.Jury: Yes

h) Any significant shortcomings in the communications system as it was operating on the day between the various police teams on the ground and New Scotland Yard.Jury: Yes

i) 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.Jury: Yes

The most important point as far as I am concerned is question 4 (c). Had this operation been properly run a suspected suicide bomber would never have got anywhere near Stockwell tube station and would have been stopped and searched almost as soon as he left his apartment. But the lack of an armed unit outside of the building de Menezes exited from contributed more than anything else to the tragedy which unfolded.

The police have so far spent £1.3 million attempting to prove that what they did that day was lawful. And yesterday the jury made it very obvious that they did not agree with that assessment.

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