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Jean Charles de Menezes

I was born after the Second World War, so I was spared the horrors which my parents and grandparents had to face. I often think I have been extraordinarily fortunate not to have to fight for my country. Like many of my generation, I have been far more upset about the Iraq War than any other political issue in my life. It was folly on a grand scale, clearly harmful to the national interest, but its main effect was to kill hundreds of thousands of Iraqis to no good purpose. It eventually brought down Tony Blair, the sole architect of British involvement, but he still shows no remorse. In some ways, I cannot help admiring his extraordinary ability to press on regardless, believing firmly in his own ability to do good.

But if I focus on single incidents, it was the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes at 10:16am on Friday 22 July 2005 that most upset me. As it happens, I have a written record of what I felt at the time. I happened to have been in the Treasury some decades earlier with John Gieve, then permanent secretary at the Home Office. We had seen little of each other over the intervening decades but at 5:02pm that day I sent him a fairly angry email which is worth quoting in full. The subject line was “death squads”:

Maybe the account in the Standard is seriously misleading. I hope so.

But it appears that armed police thought they recognized an Asian between Brixton mosque and Stockwell tube from CCTV footage as a suspected terrorist. They rushed towards him. He fled into the tube station and onto a train, with the police in hot pursuit. They pushed him to the ground and killed him with 5 shots to the head. The concern was that since he was wearing a jacket he might have had explosives underneath it and been about to detonate them. Apparently Operation Kratos requires armed police to kill terrorist suspects with headshots because even lethal body shots might give them time to detonate.

I find this, if even half true, absolutely unbelievable. So we are now in Zimbabwe, where armed police roam the streets killing people our government disapproves of (providing they are wearing jackets, of course, but then it will soon be autumn)? Is that what you and Sir Ian are trying to achieve?

I expect the police to behave that way – it is their job to focus of fulfilling their mandate as
effectively as possible. I expect politicians, especially unprincipled ones who believe in nothing except their own continuance in office, to encourage such behaviour at least tacitly.

I do not expect permanent secretaries, especially those whom I know to have considerable judgment and good sense, to sit idly by.

I will watch with interest to see if these policemen are (1) suspended, (2) investigated, (3) arrested, (4) prosecuted for murder.

I got a fairly unamused reply at 7:40pm, stating that the matter would be investigated by the IPCC. On the whole, the email seems to me to have stood the test of time remarkably well. I followed the subsequent developments with considerable interest. The IPCC (Independent Police Complaints Commission) carried out two enquiries “Stockwell 1” and “Stockwell 2”. It was eventually decided that no prosecutions would be brought against anyone involved, but that proceedings would be brought against the Met under Health & Safety legislation for failing to safeguard Menezes’ life. The trial starts on October 1 and is expected to take about two months. Presumably for that reason, the report on Stockwell 1, which dealt with the shooting and the surrounding events, has not been published. The report on Stockwell 2 was published yesterday. It deals with allegations by Menezes’ family that Ian Blair and other senior policemen had knowingly made misleading statements to the public in the aftermath.

I find the detail which has emerged so far about how the two policemen shot Menezes deeply disturbing, but comment on that is perhaps best deferred until the evidence is presented at the October trial.

It is a good rule of thumb that honest men do not claim to be honest, and only liars find it necessary to stress how truthful they are being. Certainly, that is a fairly reliable guide in the murkier parts of the financial world. So I was interested to watch Ian Blair’s press conference yesterday, after an earlier press conference at which the Menezes family had expressed disbelief that Ian Blair had not known that the shooting had been a blunder until the following day. I regretted that some heckler had not shouted out “incompetent rather than a liar, eh!”, so that we could have seen his reaction. The report is about 150 pages and I have not yet finished reading it.

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  1. Tom Welsh | 3 August 2007 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    My reactions were similar to John’s. In July 2006 The Times published the following letter which still sums them up pretty well.

    Sir

    The Crown Prosecution Service’s decision not to prosecute any individuals over the fatal shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes may look reasonable from a bureaucratic point of view. But it leads to the grotesque implication that, in 21st century Britain, an innocent civilian going about his lawful business may be killed without any crime having been committed. Surely a civilised society must forcefully reject such a conclusion. According to your report (17th July) the CPS believes that “no individual had been culpable to the degree necessary for a criminal offence”. Does this mean that a person may be killed with impunity if the responsibility is spread around thinly enough? Does the buck stop nowhere in the Metropolitan Police?

    The suggested alternative of a prosecution under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 sounds like the work of a deranged satirist. Presumably the CPS can make a case that firing seven bullets into an innocent man’s head at point-blank range breaches health and safety guidelines. The likely penalty adds insult to injury: you report that the Office of Commissioner of Police would be liable to an unlimited fine. In other words, the taxpayers would be fined – as usual.

    It may seem harsh to prosecute police officers who were doing their job to the best of their ability, trying to protect the rest of us. It would be even worse, however, to give the police carte blanche to kill members of the public by mistake. We have already seen the same syndrome at work in the killing of Harry Stanley. How many more innocent people must die before the police are brought within the control of the law?

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  1. The Trusty Servant : Ian Blair - Part 2 | 7 August 2007 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    […] interesting precedent for the Menezes case is the forced resignation of Paul Whitehouse as chief constable of Sussex Police two and a half […]

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