Originally published in the Morning Star on July 22nd 2015.
10 years ago today a young Brazilian electrician on his way to repair a broken fire alarm was murdered on the London Underground.
Jean Charles de Menezes was just 27 years old when he was shot seven times in the head by plain-clothed firearms officers on a train at Stockwell station. His horrific death was apparently solely due to him being mistakenly identified as a suspected suicide bomber when he left home for work that morning. This uncorrected fatal mistake was then compounded by a series of further blunders made by officers from the Metropolitan Police. No attempt was made to confirm John Charles’ identity nor apprehend him during his 33-minute bus journey or before he entered a busy Stockwell station. An innocent man, who was given no chance to surrender, was executed.
In the immediate aftermath of Jean Charles’ death, which came just two weeks after the atrocities caused by the July 7th London bus and tube bombings and four attempted attacks on the transport system the previous day, mainstream media reports included wholesale inaccuracies, speculation and malicious insinuations. Billboards for the Evening Standard newspaper that read “Bomber Shot Dead” were even left on view across London all weekend.
Scandalously the Metropolitan Police did not correct the misinformation it had initially provided about Jean Charles’ death once the facts became clear. Some of the immediate so-called eye-witness accounts also proved to be inaccurate, misleading and contradictory. A dead innocent man was falsely accused of being an illegal immigrant, acting in a suspicious manner, wearing a padded jacket with wires protruding from it, ignoring a police warning and attempting to escape. Even the pathologist’s post mortem report, which was written less than a week after his murder, incorrectly recorded that Jean Charles had vaulted over the ticket barriers and ran down the stairs at the tube station.
Although the Metropolitan Police was found to have committed health and safety failures, the Crown Prosecution Service decided in 2006 that no individual should face prosecution. No police officer has even been disciplined for any offence arising from the tragic circumstances surrounding the murder of Jean Charles. And yet an inquest jury in 2008, despite returning an open verdict, implicitly suggested that it was an unlawful killing after rejecting the official police account of the shooting. It also decided that the officers probably did not honestly believe they were under imminent threat before they shot Jean Charles. The legal advisors for Jean Charles’ family argued that there was enough evidence for a jury to conclude that high-ranking police officers, including the Designated Senior Officer, Cressida Dick, could have been charged with gross negligence manslaughter.
Jean Charles’ family lodged a claim in the European Court of Human Rights against the UK government over the failure to prosecute the officers involved in January 2008. It has taken seven years for it to be listed for a hearing and a judgement may not be delivered until the end of the year. For his cousin, Patricia Armani da Silva, whilst Jean’s death is a pain that never goes away, she hopes that “this legal challenge will change the law so that so no other family has to face what we did.”
The murder of Jean Charles de Menezes once again brought the issue of police accountability to prominence. The failure to bring any criminal prosecutions against the officers responsible for his death has raised significant questions about how the state and its agents are held to account for killing its citizens. A truly democratic society needs a criminal justice system that ensures scrutiny and accountability of the police and ensures that prosecutions for human rights violations are brought in appropriate cases. Public confidence in the police must not be undermined by any suggestion that the rule of law does not apply equally to all people, including those in uniform.
There has never been a successful prosecution for manslaughter or murder in any case involving the British police, even where an inquest jury has returned a finding of “unlawful killing”.