Friday, December 12, 2008

Open verdict in De Menezes inquest

Jean Charles de Menezes was shot 8 times, 7 of which were to the head

The jury in the inquest of Jean Charles De Menezes, mistakenly shot by anti-terror police on 22nd July 2006, has returned an open verdict. The verdict has disappointed the family who had hoped that an unlawful killing verdict would have been given. The family have already condemned the inquest as a “complete whitewash” and last week there were angry scenes in court before the jury retired. Last Thursday there had been dramatic scenes in court after protest by family supporters some of who disrupted proceedings prior to the jury being sent out for deliberation. Some of the protesters wore T-shirts proclaiming the jury should have had a right to decide a verdict of unlawful killing. The coroner had disallowed an unlawful killing verdict and “the result has left the jury with little choice other than to give an open verdict”, Jenny Jones, a Green member of the Metropolitan Police Association, told the BBC. She also called for a full public inquiry adding that the open verdict left many issues unanswered and a “cloud hanging over the police”.

Along with an open verdict the jury were also asked to answer a number of other questions relating to the shooting. The jury rejected the police account that Menezes had moved towards them in an aggressive manner. However passengers did back up the police version of events saying that Menezes stood from his seat. The witnesses and jury also rejected police assertions that they had shouted warnings of “armed police”. However a former CO19 officer, who spoke to Sky News, said it was “unrealistic” for people to remember such detail in light of the chaos of events that had been taking place. Roy Ramm, another former officer at Scotland Yard, said that it was “inconceivable” that officers would not shout warnings after hours of anti-terror training. Their procedures he said were “hammered into them”. The jury said there were several contributory factors leading to the death of Jean Charles de Menezes. In particular the jury agreed with the assertion that there had been failures in the communication system between teams on the ground and the command centre. There were also questions over poor intelligence being given to officers. Police were given a poor quality photograph of terror suspect Osman Hussain. Thirty clearer pictures were not distributed which may have prevented the false identification of Menezes as being the terror suspect.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Paul Stephenson speaking to reporters after the inquest said the Metropolitan Police accepted “full responsibility” for the death of the young Brazilian, an event the police service “deeply regrets”.

“We made a most terrible mistake and we are sorry”, Sir Paul said, but he insisted that the events leading up to the shooting were “unique”. There had been two attacks on London’s transport system and “there were four suicide bombers on the run”. It had not been the intention of his officer to shoot an innocent man, Sir Paul said. They had set out with the intention to protect. But he conceded the family had suffered “the most terrible of losses”. The Metropolitan Police would learn from the events to “minimise the risk” that it ever happens again. He said it is “my duty that lessons are learnt and acted on”. His officers would “continue to protect Londoners” from such events that occurred on 7th of July which killed 52 and injured 977.

However, the jury were unable to decide whether the suicide attacks of 7th July and the failed suicide attacks of 21st July had been a contributory factor to the events in Stockwell Station.

Nick Hardwick of the IPCC described the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes as a “truly shocking event” adding that there was “nothing in his [Menezes] actions that justified his death”. He said the jury had supported the IPCC’s recommendations said the verdict highlighted the need to review operational procedures in anti-terror operations.

Besides the unanswered questions highlighted in the inquest, there remains other unexplained issues particularly the missing CCTV footage, both from the train and the platform which has never been satisfactorily explained.

However speaking after the verdict, the solicitor for the family said it was the “best verdict possible” under the circumstances [BBC / Sky News].

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