‘Action must be taken against the officers responsible for my cousin’s death’ says relative of Jean Charles De Menezes

Maria Otone de Menezes, the mother of Jean Charles, holds a photograph of her son during October’s march to Downing Street by those whose loved ones have died at the hands of the state, organised by the United Families and Friends Campaign
Maria Otone de Menezes, the mother of Jean Charles, holds a photograph of her son during October’s march to Downing Street by those whose loved ones have died at the hands of the state, organised by the United Families and Friends Campaign

THE Justice4Jean Campaign said on Friday that Coroner Michael White ‘has presided over a complete whitewash’, following the conclusion of the inquest into the death of Jean Charles de Menezes, shot seven times in the head by armed police at Stockwell Tube Station on July 22, 2005.

However, the campaign said the inquest jury’s refusal to accept police claims that a warning of ‘armed police’ was given, or that the young Brazilian man was moving threateningly towards the police, was a vindication of the family’s continuing struggle to expose the truth of what really happened on that day.

The jury returned an ‘open’ verdict after the coroner refused to allow them to consider a verdict of ‘unlawful killing’.

At a press conference afterwards, Patricia da Silva Armani, a cousin of Jean Charles, said: ‘Today is an important day for all the family.

‘We have spoken to the family in Brazil and, like us, they feel vindicated by the jury’s verdict.’

She said that the jury ‘could have gone further’, if they had not been hampered by the court.

‘The mistakes of the police are now clear,’ she said.

‘Action must now be taken against the officers responsible.’

She went on to say: ‘It has taken a long time. . . We’ve finally reached a verdict and . . . it was very powerful to hear everything that was said at the inquest.

‘And, in my opinion, (from) what we heard at the inquest, it was very clear the police committed (a series of) failures during the day of Jean’s death.

‘My auntie (Jean Charles’ mother) is very happy.

‘She was very afraid the decision could be against our interests.

‘I can say on her behalf that she’s probably relieved now.’

But Jean Charles’ cousin added: ‘An unlawful killing verdict, that is what we were expecting.

‘But after the verdict today, I can only say that we are going to carry on with the struggle.’

Solicitor Harriet Wistrich said: ‘The jury should at least be able to say what they felt about all the evidence.’

She said that, after the coroner ruled out an ‘unlawful killing’ verdict, the family had made ‘a very difficult decision not to participate any further in proceedings’.

Wistrich said that the jury had approached the coroner, asking him if they could provide a narrative verdict in their own words, commenting on the evidence that they heard.

She continued that the inquest ‘revealed a series of failings’ by the police, from the top down, but particularly from those in charge of the police operation.

She condemned the handling of the operation, the way Jean Charles de Menezes had been identified as a potential suicide bomber (who police said they mistook for the man they were actually following), and the way armed police had rushed into Stockwell tube station, where they then shot him dead in a train carriage.

Wistrich said that, once armed police pursued Jean Charles into the tube station, then the chances they would arrest him, rather than shoot him dead, were ‘negligible’.

‘Once Jean Charles entered Stockwell tube, he was a dead man,’ she said.

In a post inquest briefing released on Friday, the Justice4Jean Family Campaign said that: ‘After three and a half years of determined campaigning by the Menezes family, the inquest was supposed to provide the first opportunity for all the evidence to finally be heard’, including that of witnesses who played no part in the Metropolitan Police ‘Health and Safety at Work Act’ trial.

Finally, said the campaign, ‘the evidence would be considered not by government bodies, faceless officials or vested interests, but by eleven ordinary members of the public, sitting together as a jury and independently determining the facts’.

‘But,’ the family campaign asserted, ‘the jury have been denied the opportunity to carry out the task they were sworn to undertake.

‘It became clear that the inquest would not be allowed to conduct a full determination of the evidence.

‘As any semblance of impartiality disappeared with the severe restrictions placed by the Coroner on the jury’s decision-making, the Menezes family regretfully felt that they had no option but to instruct their lawyers to withdraw as “interested persons’’ from an inquest process that seemed to have no interest in a just outcome.’

Asad Rehman, from the Justice4Jean campaign, read from the statement of Jean Charles’ family at last Friday’s press conference.

He said that, denied the opportunity even to provide a narrative verdict, the inquest jury had effectively been ‘gagged’.

He said that, despite the restrictions placed upon them, ‘the jury have clearly said the police lied’ and that it was clear ‘that from the moment Jean entered Stockwell tube he was doomed to be shot dead without warning’.

He added: ‘This verdict should be considered with the same weight as an unlawful killing verdict.’

He attacked the police ‘shoot-to-kill policy’ (known as Operation Kratos), that was developed in secret, without the knowledge of parliament, but was revealed to the world when Jean Charles was shot through the head.

Solicitor Harriet Wistrich continued: ‘There are still unanswered questions, not only for the family but for the public at large.

‘This could happen again, that’s what police said in evidence.

‘Any Londoner walking the streets wants to feel that the police are going to look back and put things right.

‘At this moment in time, what Londoner walking the streets can feel safe?’

There were also calls at last Friday’s press conference for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to look into any matters arising from the inquest, including the possibility of bringing perjury charges against police officers.

There was also anger that some police officers involved in the operation have since been promoted.

Earlier, BBC radio replayed an interview with Anna Dunwoodie, a witness who was on the train at Stockwell when police put their guns to the head of Jean Charles de Menezes.

None of the passengers who gave evidence at the inquest said they heard a warning of ‘armed police’ before Jean Charles was killed.

Witnesses said they had no idea who the armed men were.

‘I ran as they were shooting him,’ Anna Dunwoodie said. ‘It was horrific, it was terrifying and it was bloody.’

The Metropolitan Police chief at the time, Ian Blair, had said: ‘As I understand it, the man was challenged and refused to obey police instructions.’

But it later emerged that Jean Charles had calmly walked through the barriers at Stockwell tube, entered a train and took a seat, waiting for the train to leave the station.

The inquest jury was asked to respond with ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers to a series of questions when they delivered their verdict.

Asked if they thought the police had shouted a warning before opening fire, they were unanimous that the police hadn’t.

They also unanimously rejected the assertion that Jean Charles was moving towards the police before he was grabbed in a bear hug and pinned back in his seat.

They also cited contributory factors to the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes, including a failure to obtain a better photograph of the suspect police said they were trailing, and failure to ensure that Jean Charles was stopped before he reached public transport.

The Justice4Jean Family Campaign said: ‘The statements of the firearms officers involved in the operation were drafted after the officers had conferred with each other and after they were told they had shot the wrong person.

‘In contrast, the statements of passengers were taken immediately after the shooting and sometimes in particularly inappropriate circumstances (eg in a pub with a television reporting inaccurate news of what had happened on the tube in the background).

‘Any officer who requested it was granted anonymity by the Coroner, even though in most other legal proceedings anonymity will not normally be granted to witnesses except in the most exceptional circumstances.’

Yasmin Khan, of the Justice4Jean campaign, said: ‘The fact the jury came back with such a strong verdict should send warning signals all over Scotland Yard.’

She pointed out that police said they would ‘do the same again’.