'Shoot-to-kill' victim was here legally, says Straw

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The Independent Online

The death of Jean Charles de Menezes, an electrician with no connection to the bombing campaign in London, has deeply embarrassed the Metropolitan Police and strained diplomatic relations between Britain and Brazil.

Jack Straw said last night that he believed Mr de Menezes was in the country legally. "I don't have any precise information about his immigration status here," Mr Straw said. "My understanding is that he was here lawfully."

Ministers faced anger from Brazil over reported claims by government sources that Mr de Menezes may have been living illegally in Britain because his student visa had expired.

The suggestion was strongly disputed by the man's family. Mr de Menezes, 27, died at Stockwell Tube station on Friday, the day after the failed suicide bombings on the capital's transport network.

Police, who had the block of flats where he lived under surveillance, had trailed him from his home and, when he entered the station, plain-clothes officers ordered him to stop. They had, though, allowed him ­ a suspected suicide bomber ­ to catch a bus to reach Stockwell.

Police say Mr de Menezes fled when they challenged him, leaping over ticket barriers and jumping on to a train. Apparently fearing his jacket concealed a bomb, officers shot him dead.

His reason for running from the police remains a mystery. His friends say he was stopped several weeks ago as part of a routine search at Brixton, and did not try to flee.

Witnesses reported hearing about five shots but an inquest, which opened at Southwark coroner's court yesterday, was told he was shot seven times in the head and once in the shoulder.

Details of his death emerged as the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) began its investigation. The three officers involved have not been suspended, but have been moved to non-firearm duties. The investigation is expected to take several months, with full powers, including referral to the Crown Prosecution Service, open to the IPCC.

Its chairman, Nick Hardwick, said: "We enter this with open minds, as we search for the truth, and we have accepted the full cooperation of the Metropolitan Police service, which they have pledged."

He added: "We don't start from the assumption that we are investigating a crime here. We are looking for the truth."

Anger was fuelled yesterday by the reports that Mr de Menezes was in Britain on an out-of-date student visa. The claims are understood to have originated from government sources. But his family insisted he was legitimately in Britain on a five-year visa; one theory is that, like many Brazilians, he may have be travelling on a Portuguese passport.

The Home Office refused to comment on his case, but Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said: "We are disgusted at suggestions that a man's immigration status has any relevance at all to the value of his life."

Yesterday Tony Blair said he was desperately sorry for the death of Mr de Menezes, but stressed the police were working in very difficult circumstances.

"At the same time therefore, in expressing our sorrow and deep sympathy for the death that has happened, it is important that we allow the police, and support them in doing the job they have to do in order to protect people in this country," he said.

Jack Straw, in a joint press conference with his Brazilian counterpart, Celso Amorim, made an unreserved apology on behalf of Britain last night. He said: "My own sense of loss was made more poignant because I happen to live in this part of London, where I have lived for over 25 years."

Mr Straw also said a claim from Mr de Menezes' family for compensation would be treated "sympathetically and quickly".

At Stockwell station yesterday, a makeshift shrine was growing to the dead electrician. Sandwiched between the fruit and vegetable stall and the photo booth was a mound of flowers, flags, photos, handwritten messages and a football. The items had been placed there by a steady stream of people, most of them women, many in tears.

Tania, a middle-aged woman arranging the shrine, said: "We are all friends, part of the community of Stockwell. Latin Americans, from Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Mexico ­ we are all the same. We are all Asians to the police because we are not white. We are very, very angry."

Carlos de Silva, from Sao Paulo, a 32-year-old waiter, said: "I love this country. But when I heard it was him I just thought something must be wrong. How can the Brazilian people be involved with bombers? Britain offers us Brazilians a good life. At home it can take 20 years to be able to afford a house. Here you can do it in five."

Giovanna Panazzolo, 24, also from Sao Paulo, wrote: "I hope that justice will be done. We [the Brazilian community] are here to make sure that it happens."

Simone Frangalla, 34, an anthropologist, said: "I have talked to friends at home and they are very shocked. They support the UK and condemn terrorism. I tried to tell them that the news they were hearing about the shooting was a little distorted. We need to be calm."

Rita Luna, 52, a half-Brazilian interpreter, said: "To the police we Brazilians look the same as Pakistanis, Arabs and Palestinians. I already felt paranoid travelling on the Tube, now I feel anxious that I might get shot by the police."

How studying in Britain offers route to a visa

By Nigel Morris

* Applying to study in this country is one of the most popular routes for obtaining a British visa and the Government has encouraged universities to see foreign students as a source of income.

In 2003, more than 190,000 student visas were issued, a rise of 48 per cent in a year.

To qualify, students must be able to show they are attending a recognised course, will be able to support themselves without working and promise to leave Britain when they complete their studies.

Since 1 January this year, courses for which a student visa can be obtained must be registered on the Department for Education and Skills' " Register of Education and Training Providers".

Students are allowed to stay for the length of their course, or for a maximum of two years if it is below degree standard. If a student is refused entry to the UK, and plans to spend more than six months in the country, then they have the right to appeal.

In theory, once you are in the UK you can apply for an extension of stay or for a variation of leave to enter (a change to your reason for being in the UK, for example from a working holidaymaker to a work-permit holder).

From September 2004 the maximum time someone can stay in the UK to do successive short courses (under one year) below degree level has been reduced from four years to two years.

On 1 July the fee for a student visa rose from £36 to £85. Since 1 April the fee for postal applications for "leave to remain" has been £250 for students.

Work permits are in general more difficult to obtain than student visas. Employers have to apply for them on behalf of potential employees.