Jean Charles de Menezes: In the wrong place. At the wrong time

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The Independent Online

He left the isolated farm that he grew up in at the age of 14 to pursue his studies, living with an uncle in an impoverished area of the sprawling city of Sao Paulo. By the time he was 18, Jean Charles had overcome the odds to complete his professional diploma. It was the piece of paper that would allow him swap a life of odd jobs in the crime-ridden ghettos of Sao Paulo for a home in London.

After travelling to Britain on holiday, during which he may have worked illegally, he obtained a five-year residency permit. Last night, it was unclear whether that permit - possibly a student visa - allowed him to work.

Such was his desire to make the most of the opportunity, the Brazilian had mastered English within four months of his arrival in Tulse Hill, south London, in March 2002.

He quickly adapted to British life. To relax, the 27-year-old would watch television - a favourite programme was EastEnders - or hang out with friends in a Brazilian bar close to Oxford Street. He told relatives his dream was to build a successful career and earn enough money to return to the family home near the city of Gonzaga, in Minas Gerais, south-east Brazil, and set up a company.

In his thrice-weekly phone calls home, he told his mother he was safe and a happy in London - that the police did not even carry guns.

Gesio Cesar D'Avila, 37, a friend and work colleague, told The Independent: "He was happy in London. He liked all the different cultures on his doorstep. He wanted to go home as a success."

Three days ago, shortly before 10am, his modest ambition was terminated some 7,000 miles from home by a burst of 9mm bullets from a Glock 17 pistol fired into his jaw and mouth at point-blank range by an officer from a Scotland Yard anti-terrorist unit.

By a catastrophic coincidence, he was followed from his home and then pursued into a Tube carriage by plain-clothes police officers who suspected he was a suicide bomber.

His fate was apparently decided by a cruel combination of improbability: that, used to the heat of Brazil, he should find a cool Englishsummer's day too cold for comfort and wore a bulky jacket; his skin colour might have made him appear Asian to his pursuers; and he shared a communal entrance to a block of flats with a suspected member of the terrorist cell that carried out last Thursday's failed attack on London's transport system.

Last night, his mother, Maria, told The Independent from the family home: "He was a worker. He was my life. I'm begging that the police be punished. It's not fair to kill an innocent worker. I told him to take care with the violence in England.

"But he just laughed. "It's a clean place, mum. The people are educated. There's no violence in England. No one goes around carrying guns, not even police."

Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, and Sir Ian Blair, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, expressed their "deep regret" for Mr de Menezes' death but insisted a shoot- to-kill policy for suspected suicide bombers would remain in place.

As a group of protesters, many of them Brazilian, gathered outside Scotland Yard, Mr Straw called his Brazilian counterpart, Celso Amorim, to offer a full inquiry into the shooting. The government in Sao Paulo described Mr de Menezes as "the victim of a lamentable mistake".

Family members were more direct. As he stood before a police tape preventing him from reaching Scotia Road, the quiet cul-de-sac where Mr de Menezes lived, his cousin, Alex Pereira, said: "He was murdered."

Mr Pereira, 27, from Norbury, south London, disputed the account of Scotland Yard that Mr de Menezes was challenged by the pursuing plain-clothes police officers as he stepped off a No. 2 bus at Stockwell Tube station, about two miles from his flat.

He said: "Jean had lived in Sao Paulo. It is a dangerous city and he knew the rules there ­ if you run away when the police tell you to stop, then you are dead. He knows you don't run away and his English was perfect. There is no explanation for him ignoring a warning because there was no warning.

"The people who did this ­ the police, the Government ­ should hide their faces in shame." Mr Pereira, who identified his cousin at a mortuary in Greenwich on Saturday after being called by police about his "disappearance", claimed exit wounds in Mr de Menezes' jaw and mouth showed he had been shot from behind.

He said: "I pushed my way into the morgue, they wouldn't let me see him. His mouth was twisted by the wounds and it looked like he had been shot from the back of the neck. All I want to do is take him home to Brazil to be buried."

Like most in the capital last Friday morning, Mr de Menezes, known as Jean or Jim to his wide circle of friends, was resigned to suffering delays on his way into work after the failed bombing the day before.

He was not known to police despite being stopped three times in the past year while riding his 90cc moped too quickly. His last encounter with the police had been at Brixton Tube station last month when his bag was searched by officers conducting routine checks.

He had slept in on Friday after working late as a kitchen porter at a restaurant to help a friend. He left the flat he shared with his two cousins, Patrice and Vivien, at 10am after receiving a call to repair a faulty fire alarm in Willesden, north-west London.

After a five-minute walk to the bus stop on Tulse Hill Road he boarded a No 2 bus bound for Baker Street. He had to change his normal route after finding Brixton Tube station closed.

Mr D'Avila, a builder from Sao Paulo who had known Mr de Menezes for two years, spoke to his friend minutes before he stepped off the bus at Stockwell Tube station. He said that Mr de Menezes, a practising Catholic, had spoken of wanting to avoid public transport after the failed bombings: "He said he was going to be late because of the bus. Then he phoned again to say he was going to be really late because of the Tube. After that, I rang him several times but he didn't answer."

Unknown to Mr de Menezes, as he left for work he was being watched. It is understood the officers were watching three men of Somalian or Ethiopian appearance who lived on the second floor in another of the nine flats. Police did raid one of the flats in the modern three-storey building on Saturday, arresting one person. It was at the height of that surveillance operation that Mr de Menezes had the misfortune to emerge from his first-floor home.

Within 20 minutes, the Brazilian ­ whose interest in things electrical was aroused at an early age when he dismantled a broken transistor radio and managed to repair it ­ would be dead.

Witnesses described how he vaulted the ticket barriers at Stockwell, then started running down the escalators before bursting into a carriage of a stationary northbound Northern line train looking "petrified".

Yesterday, his family in Brazil was mourning the death of a man described as "always talking, always joking, always popular".

Mr Pereira said Mr de Menezes' parents ­ Maria Menezes and Matozinho Otoni da Silva, a retired bricklayer ­ had to be sedated after being told of the tragedy.

It seems the parents' hopes of brighter future ­ an escape from their life of impoverished hard labour ­ died on Friday with the younger of their two sons.Last night, many of his relatives and friends crowded miserably into the couple's bare two-bedroomed bungalow that lies at the end of miles and miles of parched red earth track. Some of the assembled family and friends were weeping, while others were just standing in a shocked silence, seemingly unable to comprehend what had happened.

Matozinho Otoni da Silva said his son had expressed frustration after a series of failed attempts to make a better life for himself, ranging from running a repair shop to an attempt to emigrate to America. Clutching a photograph of Jean Charles weightlifting, Mr da Silva said: "He wanted to come back [to Gonzaga] to build a house, to be with his family. He was a boy for the future ­ he was always talking about the future.

"How could it have been him in the middle of all those people? He was so happy in England."