UK police guilty over Menezes shooting

UK police guilty over Menezes shooting

London's police chief has defied calls to resign today after a jury convicted his force of endangering the public by shooting dead an innocent Brazilian on an underground train, mistaking him for a suicide bomber.


Police shot electrician Jean Charles de Menezes, 27, seven times in the head after he boarded an underground train in south London on July 22, 2005.

They had wrongly identified him as one of four men who had tried to attack the city's transport system a day earlier.

The capital's Metropolitan Police Service was fined STG175,000 ($A391,105) and ordered to pay legal costs of STG385,000 ($A860,430) after being convicted of a single charge of breaching health and safety rules which require it to protect the public.

Prosecutors had accused the force of a “shocking and catastrophic error” during the trial at London's Old Bailey Central Criminal Court, in a novel use of workplace health and safety laws against a police force.

'Insufficient evidence'

No individual police officers have been punished over the shooting. The Crown Prosecution Service decided last year there was insufficient evidence to charge any individual with crimes, a decision which the de Menezes family criticised.

The opposition Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties said police chief Sir Ian Blair should resign. But Prime Minister Gordon Brown's office said he still backed him.

“The Commissioner and the Metropolitan Police remain in the forefront of the fight against crime and terrorism. They have my full confidence and our thanks and support in the difficult job that they do,” Interior Minister Jacqui Smith said.

Blair said he would have resigned had the court found his force suffered from “systemic failures”, but he would not quit over events “of a single day in extraordinary circumstances.”

“It is important to remember that no police officer set out that day to shoot an innocent man,” he said. “This death was the culmination of acts of many hands, all of whom were doing their best to handle the terrible threat facing London that day.”

Family pleased

The de Menezes family's representatives said they were pleased at the conviction but called for an open inquest at which they could present evidence, and for manslaughter charges to be brought against individual officers.

The electrician was killed during a manhunt a day after would-be suicide bombers had escaped after their bombs failed to detonate on London transport.

The failed attacks were a copy of suicide bombings that had killed 52 commuters two weeks before.

Prosecutors said the police had criminally endangered the public, first by allowing a man they believed was a bomber to board an underground train, then by shooting him seven times in the head at point blank range.

Firearms officers

Critics of the prosecution have said there was little point in forcing the taxpayer-funded police force to pay fines back to the treasury. The trial itself cost millions of pounds.

De Menezes lived in the same block of flats as one of the failed bombers, Hussein Osman. Surveillance officers monitoring the building followed de Menezes on two bus rides without stopping him before he reached the underground train station.

Specialist firearms officers were rushed to the station – after a four-hour delay – when senior officers wrongly became convinced de Menezes was Osman.

“No explanation has been forthcoming other than a breakdown in communication. It's been clear from the evidence that the surveillance team never positively identified Mr De Menezes as a suspect,” said Judge Richard Henriques.