Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Menezes verdict: jury blames police


Jean Charles de Menezes
Victim: the jury rejected claims Jean Charles de Menezes had “armed police” warning
Jean Charles de Menezes Marksman The composite image of Hussain Osman and de Menezes, and  Cressida Dick, who 'bore no personal culpability' for the tragedy

Menezes verdict: jury blames police

Paul Cheston, Courts Correspondent

A CATALOGUE of police errors was today condemned at the inquest into the shooting of John Charles de Menezes.

Banned from considering an unlawful killing verdict, jurors returned an open verdict by an eight to two majority on the death of the innocent Brazilian electrician. The panel made clear it did not believe some of the evidence from the police marksmen.

The officers had claimed that Mr de Menezes moved towards them in a menacing fashion before they opened fire.

Officer C12 - the first to shoot - even claimed he shouted "armed police". But the jury decided unanimously there was no warning and that Mr de Menezes, 27, did not move before he was grabbed in a bear hug by surveillance officer, Ivor, and was shot at point-blank range.

But the jury did agree unanimously that Mr de Menezes rose from his seat as the armed police raced into the Tube carriage. Jurors deliberated for seven days before returning their verdict today on the shooting at Stockwell station the day after the 21/7 attempted suicide bombings in 2005.

Acting Met Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson said after the verdict: "We made a terrible mistake - I am sorry." Extending his condolences to Mr de Menezes' family he added that the Met "must and do accept full responsibility". In response to a detailed questionnaire from coroner Sir Michael Wright, the jury decided unanimously that several factors had caused or contributed to the mistaken shooting of the man police believed to be terrorist Hussain Osman:

● The failure to obtain a good photograph of Osman to identify the suspect.

● The failure by the police to stop Mr de Menezes before he reached public transport.

● The doubts of some officers about the correct identification of the suspect which were not relayed to the firearms team.

● The fact that the position of the cars containing the firearms officers was not accurately known to the command team running the operation.

● The shortcomings of the radio system linking the officers.

●The failure to conclude that the surveillance officers should still have stopped Mr de Menezes, even when the firearms officers were reported to be ready to make the stop.

But the jury decided by a majority that the innocent behaviour of Mr de Menezes as he made his way to work, which police said had raised their suspicions that he might be the suspected terrorist, could not be considered to have contributed to his death.

Finally, the jury was unable to agree whether the suicide attacks which had taken place on 7 July 2005 and the pressure they created on the Met to deal with a threat was an additional factor or not.

The family of Mr de Menezes immediately denounced the inquest - estimated to have cost a minimum of £6 million - as a "complete whitewash".

Last week, they staged a walkout in protest at the coroner's decision to refuse to allow the jury to return a verdict of unlawful killing.

Their lawyers have announced they intend to challenge the ruling in the High Court and the coroner's refusal to allow the jury to find that the Met's command team on the day were guilty of gross negligence.

That would have amounted to an allegation of manslaughter against Commander John McDowell, the gold commander on the day of the shooting, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick, the senior designated officer, and the senior tactical adviser, Chief Inspector Vince Esposito.

The family of Mr de Menezes also made three further demands that:

● The Metropolitan Police Authority must act to ensure individual officers are held to account.

● The Independent Police Complaints Commission review its decision not to recommend disciplinary action.

● The House of Commons home affairs select committee carry out an inquiry into the shooting and its aftermath.

More than 100 witnesses gave evidence over seven weeks at the Oval cricket ground hearing in Kennington.

Mr de Menezes was shot seven times through the neck and head with hollowed bullets for maximum devastation.

A total of 44 police officers were granted anonymity for the proceedings, which the de Menezes family alleged was a "desperate attempt to evade culpability".

The hearing heard for the first time the personal accounts of the two officers who shot Mr de Menezes - known as C12 and C2.

They told of the threat they faced in dealing with a suicide bomber, their duty to protect Londoners from another terrorist bombing and their shock at finding out - days later - that they had killed an innocent man.

Civilian witnesses in the Northern line carriage also spoke in public for the first time and were unanimous that no warning had been shouted before the officers opened fire.

The coroner told the jury they would have to decide whether differences in police officers' accounts were caused by "failure of recollection" or by "misunderstandings and failures of communication" at the time. Last year, the Met was fined £175,000 and ordered to pay £385,000 costs after being convicted at the Old Bailey of endangering the public. The jury added to their verdict by stating that they believed Ms Dick had "borne no personal culpability".

Acting Commissioner Sir Paul said today: "For somebody to lose their life in such circumstances is something the Met Police Service deeply regrets."

He stressed the pressure and the unique challenges facing the police and Londoners on the day of the shooting, only 24 hours after four terrorists had tried to blow up the capital's transport system with suicide bombs.

The priority of every police officer on duty that day was to protect Londoners: "Nobody set out that day to kill an innocent man".

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