Mark Steel: Shooting people is both unhealthy and unsafe

Maybe the police will be charged not with manslaughter but using loud weapons while not wearing ear-muffs
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The Independent Online

How comforting for the family of Jean Charles de Menezes, to know that while no one from the police will be charged for shooting him in the head, they will face action from the Health and Safety Executive. So maybe one day the family will be informed the police are to be charged, not with manslaughter but with using loud weapons while not wearing ear muffs. Because regularly shooting people without adequate ear protection could lead in later life to tinnitus, or even in severe cases partial deafness.

You would think a body called the Health and Safety Executive would take a dim view of shooting innocent people through the head. At the very least I imagine there's a film they show office workers, that goes:

To ensure a safe working environment, always remember the three Fs.

1: Flex. Loose wires must be tucked away where no one can trip over them.

2: Furniture. Chairs left in the middle of the room were responsible for over 150 office injuries in Britain last year alone!

3: Firing a series of bullets at point-blank range into the temple of someone you've targeted as a result of staggering incompetence. This can be dangerous, requiring the victim to spend a lengthy spell off work, resulting in more stress all round for everyone!!

The reason this case is down to Health and Safety is that the Crown Prosecution Service has decided there is insufficient evidence to prosecute anyone in the police force. And you can see how it would be a challenge even for Inspector Morse to find any leads in this case. He'd grumble, "I'm baffled by this one, Lewis. Only 30 or 40 witnesses saw the police shoot him, and no weapon was in evidence except a series of police guns, fired by the police, who then issued a pack of lies to cover up their mistake, through police statements and police spokesmen. My hunch is the culprit is the Milk Marketing Board."

The police defence revolves around the assertion that they believed De Menezes was going to blow up the Tube station, so they had no choice but to shoot him. But don't they bother checking? The bloke was a Brazilian electrician, as far removed from al-Qa'ida as possible. They'd have been nearer if they'd shot Sir Stanley Matthews.

And they can't have been certain he was a suicide bomber at first, because they watched him get on a bus and go to Stockwell. So they only became convinced he was a terrorist when he got on the Underground. Their thinking seems to have been "Terrorists blow themselves up on the Underground, and he's got on the Underground. Well that's too much of a coincidence, he must be a bomber."

Or maybe, like in Forest Gate, they were acting on a tip-off. In which case this is the future of murder. No longer do prospective murderers have to spend months preparing alibis and faking documents like in an episode of Columbo. Now you just ring up the police and say, "There's a bloke called Dave with long blond hair who works in the off licence and he's planning to blow up Tower Bridge," and by night time he'll be wasted, or at least someone will, probably a bald woman in the pet shop who they thought was Dave by mistake.

After the announcement, a spokesman for the police was on London News, saying the officers responded to the news they wouldn't be charged "with dignity but without jubilation". Naively I assumed he meant this was because they were deeply sorry about the event, but instead he said it was because they would have to live with the fact they were accused at all "for the rest of their lives", and this "would affect their home life".

Isn't that always the bugger when you shoot someone through the head? And for the police in this case it's even worse than normal, because as well as having to live with shooting someone, they've also got to live with having made up stories about De Menezes wearing a big jacket and vaulting over the barriers as well. And as if that isn't enough, now they've got to live with having got away with it. Their home life will be in tatters.

And then we were told that mistakes like this are understandable in today's new unprecedented lethal climate. This is a common line now from the police and the Government, that "today's terrorists are far more dangerous than the IRA". They seem on the verge of saying "At least the IRA were gentlemen. They would smile and say 'I'd like a pound of your finest Semtex please', because whatever else, they had manners, not like today's lot."

Maybe this explains why so many of the IRA blew themselves up with their own bombs. A team would plant a device, then they'd all stand by the doorway saying "After you," "No, after you," and they'd never get out of the place before it went off.

The conclusion seems to be we're now in such a state of danger from terrorists, that the only way to be safe is to shoot people who are nothing to do with terrorists. Which is why the Health and Safety Executive will probably decide there's insufficient evidence to bring any health and safety charges. But the case will be dealt with - by a football referee. And if he decides the police were offside, the family of Jean Charles de Menezes can rest assured they'll be offered a free kick. Then they can all get on with their lives.

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