A mourning mother welcomes the verdict but awaits 'justice'
Three and a half years ago, Maria Otone de Menezes was a farm labourer living a quiet life in the unremarkable Brazilian village of Gonzaga.
But after the death of her son, Mrs de Menezes became the mourning face of a campaign that garnered support across the world, humbled the Metropolitan Police and contributed to the downfall of the force's most senior officer.
Yesterday, the grieving mother, who before her son's death had never been to Britain and speaks no English, said she felt "reborn" after campaigners got a message of the jury's verdict to neighbours on a farm near her home in Brazil.
In a message read at a press conference hosted by the Justice4Jean campaign, she said: "I am very happy with the verdict. Since the moment the coroner ruled out unlawful killing, I was feeling very sad. But today I feel reborn."
Mr de Menezes's cousin, Patricia da Silva Armani, who has been at the centre of the campaign, said: "We have spoken to the whole family in Brazil and they, like us, are vindicated by the jury's verdict."
She said she believed the jury would have reached an unlawful killing verdict if they had not been ordered not to by the coroner. "Mistakes of the police are now clear. Action must be taken against the officers responsible."
Behind the family's rallying cries of "Justice for Jean Charles" over the past three years has been a highly sophisticated campaign run by some of the country's brightest legal minds. It began two days after the Brazilian's death when, at a vigil outside Stockwell station, Yasmin Khan, a social justice and race relations lawyer, suggested the family seek representation.
The same afternoon, Ms Khan put Mr de Menezes's cousins, Ms da Silva, Alessandro Pereira and Vivian Figueiredo, in touch with Gareth Peirce, the well-known human rights solicitor with a noted history of championing unfashionable causes. She represented the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six – both wrongly convicted as IRA bombers – during their successful appeals.
Ms Peirce instructed Michael Mansfield QC, who represented the De Menezes family during the inquest. Mr Mansfield is also known for taking on high-profile cases that question the establishment, most notably the Princess of Wales inquest. He says 95 per cent of his work comes from legal aid; the De Menezes case is one such example.
Ms Khan's fellow campaign leader is Asad Rehman, a former political advisor to George Galloway's Respect campaign and a founder of the Stop the War coalition. The pair orchestrated a campaign which operates with just 10 volunteers and has never had more than £4,000 in the bank at any one time.
But the backgrounds of those involved in the Justice4Jean campaign prompted some people to claim that the family's grief and crusade for justice had been hijacked by individuals out to further their own anti-establishment agenda.
A London Assembly member, Brian Coleman claimed the De Menezes family were being "fooled" and said he felt that those behind the campaign were "poison in the political system". Ms Khan said: "I admit we are a bunch of do-gooders, but we are people committed to getting justice for an innocent man, killed for no reason."
Perhaps the campaign's most high-profile protest came towards the end of the 12-week inquest when the coroner, Sir Michael Wright, told the jury that they would not be allowed to return a verdict of unlawful killing. The Justice4Jean campaign fought the decision in the High Court, but lost. In a protest at the legitimacy of the inquest, they then instructed their legal team to withdraw from proceedings.
Ms Khan said she was amazed at the strength and tenacity the family had shown. "Not only have they lost a loved one, but they've then been thrust into the media limelight," she added. "And their pain has then been exacerbated by hearing senior police officers say that nothing went wrong and that they'd do the same again. All they have ever wanted is for the evidence to be put in front of a jury to find the facts."
As for Mrs de Menezes, she has remained in Brazil throughout the three-and-a-half years since her son was shot dead, although she has had the final say on every decision taken by the campaign, save for two occasions. The first was a visit to Stockwell station, paid for by the Metropolitan Police, to visit the spot where her son was killed. The second was to hear her son's killers give evidence in court.
After that ordeal, she told reporters that hearing the evidence of firearms officers C2 and C12 had been "incredibly difficult", and added: "Sometimes in the court it has felt like I cannot go on listening; it feels like too much and I want to run out of court so I do not have to hear it all. But I force myself to stay and listen, as I hope that through their evidence and the contradictions in all the police officers' stories which are now coming out, some justice for my son will be done."
But, despite her professed happiness at the jury's verdict, that search for justice is bound to continue.
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