Oval courtroom gets emergency refit

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The Independent Online

The Sir John Major Room overlooking the green bowl of the Oval Cricket Ground was built for corporate entertainment. Yesterday, it opened as the arena for a grand-scale investigation into alleged institutional incompetence – and a spot of redecorating.

Not since the Stephen Lawrence inquiry in a south London office block a decade ago had so many lawyers and campaigners representing the aggrieved and grieving gathered to hear testimony about the role of the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) in the untimely death of an innocent young man.

Over the next 12 weeks, a total of 20 lawyers – six of them eminent QCs – will take their places behind computer screens in a conference room at the heart of this historic cricket ground, as some 75 witnesses give evidence about the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes by two armed police officers three years ago. To underline the enduringly controversial nature of the death, campaigners erected a banner across the front of flats overlooking the ground. It read: "Inquest – not cover up. Justice 4 Jean."

But as an unlikely mix of cricket professionals and lawyers queued to get past security, it seemed to be the "courtroom" layout that was the most pressing obstacle to justice. A corridor built to provide a private entrance for the 48 police officers – including C2 and C12, the marksmen who fired the fatal shots – to give evidence anonymously, was ordered by the coroner to be redesigned to make room for extra tables for the crowded briefs. So before the jury was sworn in, the builders were ushered in.