A new kind of charge

“I find I’ve nothing to say about the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes that hasn’t already been said”

OK, I lied.

The story has evolved, to put it politely. We were told that de Menezes was wearing a jacket with wires coming out of it, then a ‘bulky jacket’; we were told that he had been challenged and run into a tube station, then that he was challenged in the tube station and ran onto a platform, vaulting the barrier. Five days after the shooting, the Metropolitan Police revealed – by the means of a private meeting with de Menezes’ relatives – that de Menezes had been wearing a denim jacket and hadn’t jumped the barrier (the man who did was one of the policemen pursuing him).

The story may yet develop further, perhaps becoming even less flattering to the Metropolitan Police. As it stands, though, it’s still got a couple of significant holes in it. Firstly, we need to know how the police challenged de Menezes. Did his pursuers try to tell him that they were armed police, or that his life was at risk if he didn’t comply with their orders? Was he given any opportunity to surrender? Did he even know that police officers had challenged him?

It certainly seems that there was no second challenge – that de Menezes was not challenged again after the initial challenge, despite the decision to use lethal force. Depending on the wording of the initial challenge, this may mean that he had no warning that his life was in danger. According to a police source quoted in the Guardian, “If the firearms team are reasonably certain the person is a suicide bomber then there is no need to issue any warning. Experience from other parts of the world shows that if a suicide bomber knows they are being followed by police, they will detonate.”. A source quoted in the Times concurs. But this suggests that, once firearms officers had concluded (wrongly) that de Menezes was on the point of causing an explosion, his life was forfeit: there was nothing he could do that would have allowed him to come out of the tube station alive. If so, this is an extremely disturbing development in British law enforcement – and would be even if de Menezes had been loaded with explosive.

We also need to know why, if the police genuinely believed de Menezes to pose an imminent danger to those around him, they allowed him to catch a bus, intervening only when he switched to the tube. It’s not as if buses hadn’t been targeted. Again, if his killer believed de Menezes to be a suicide bomber, why was he pinned bodily to the ground before he was shot in the head? Surely this might risk setting off the explosion that killing him was supposed to avert. Or was de Menezes, in his denim jacket, seen as a low enough risk to be watched on the bus rather than being intercepted, and rugby-tackled on the tube train rather than being shot from a distance? But if so, why was he killed? Not, surely, because he had been misidentified as one of the July 21st bombers – this would be summary justice pure and simple.

Time – and the Police Complaints Commission – will tell; at the moment these are just a couple of plausible scenarios. But, amid a flood of reminders that the police do a difficult job and that terrorists are evil murderers, I think it’s worth keeping in view just how starkly unacceptable some of these scenarios are. Last word to the Graun:

Insiders say there may have been flaws in the operation that led to Mr de Menezes’s shooting, which is being investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. There are questions about why the intelligence was so faulty and about the identification of Mr de Menezes as a target. … One officer said an examination of the intelligence used, the decision making and identification of the supposed suspect “may reduce the culpability [of the officer who fired] quite significantly”.Another senior Met insider said: “When the truth comes out it is going to be horrific.”

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2 Comments

  1. Anonymous
    Posted 2 August 2005 at 09:55 | Permalink | Reply

    Looks like we are in for James Ashley mark 2, with a small dash of Diarmuid O’Neill and a larger one of Stephen Waldorf. Probably not a lot like the Harry Stanley case though.

    In other words, it’s the fault of the people who set the operation up, not the one who pulled the trigger. Although I very much doubt that ‘Fire 7 shots into his head’ was ever in any aurthorised procedure. 4, possibly. On the other hand, that question is very much by the by.

    Chris W

  2. Phil
    Posted 2 August 2005 at 13:28 | Permalink | Reply

    I remembered Waldorf, but I’d forgotten the other two. After googling, I’d say that sounds about right; I suppose the main question is whether this operation was mostly Ashley or mostly O’Neill. I was quite struck by the family resemblance between the statements made by Ian Blair and Paul Whitehouse (post-Ashley). (Still, he was good in Help.)

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