Menezes: Did the police lie?

Mark Hughes,Crime Correspondent
Saturday 13 December 2008 01:00 GMT

Jean Charles de Menezes was not lawfully killed as part of an anti-terrorist operation, a jury decided yesterday, rejecting the police account of how the Brazilian died as not to be trusted.

Returning an open verdict at the end of the 12-week inquest, the jurors contradicted evidence given by seven firearms and surveillance officers when they answered a series of 13 questions put to them by the coroner.

In particular, they said they refused to believe that the first officer to open fire, codenamed C12, had shouted a warning of "armed police" first. They also rejected the officer's claim that the Brazilian had walked towards him.

Mr de Menezes died on 22 July 2005 aged 27, after police mistook him for a terrorist and shot him seven times in the head. The coroner, Sir Michael Wright, had already stopped the jury from returning a verdict of unlawful killing, leaving open and lawful killing verdicts as the only possibilities.

By returning an open verdict they heaped even more pressure on the Metropolitan Police by highlighting the inadequacies in the surveillance team's operation, the communications between teams, and, most damagingly, the accounts given by its officers.

The police have already submitted a file detailing 82 changes they have made in the wake of the tragedy. They must now await the coroner's report, which is expected to make further recommendations to the force.

The verdict yesterday, after seven days of deliberation, prompted the De Menezes family to call for the officers who claimed to have shouted the warning to be investigated for perjury. Harriet Wistrich, the solicitor representing the family, alleged that some officers had committed perjury.

However law experts said that the possibility of charges being brought was unlikely as the jurors' responses to the questions do not make it clear whether they think the officers lied or were simply mistaken.

After the verdict a statement, read on behalf of Mr de Menezes's mother, Maria Otone de Menezes, said she was pleased with the result. 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."

It is now widely anticipated that the family will seek another judicial review over the omission of the unlawful killing verdict. And they plan to lobby MPs on the Home Affairs Select Committee to hold an inquiry. Mr de Menezes's cousin, Patricia da Silva, said: "I can only say that we will carry on with the struggle."

Yesterday's 8-2 majority verdict and questionnaire answers are highly damaging to the Metropolitan Police. The De Menezes saga has already lasted three and a half years and contributed to Sir Ian Blair's resignation. Now the focus is likely to turn to other senior officers who were in charge that day, with Deputy Assistant Commissioners Cressida Dick and John McDowall the main sources of ire. Yesterday the family reiterated their calls for Ms Dick to resign.

Sir Paul Stephenson, the acting Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said the force accepted "full responsibility" for Mr de Menezes's death, adding: "The death of Jean Charles de Menezes was a tragedy. He was an innocent man and we must, and do, accept full responsibility. For somebody to lose their life in such circumstances is something that the Metropolitan Police Service deeply regrets. In the face of enormous challenges faced by officers on that day, we made a most terrible mistake. I am sorry,"

He added: "Our priority that day was to arrest these terrorists before they could commit further atrocities and potential acts of mass murder. No one set out that day to kill an innocent man. The coroner has ruled that, on the extensive evidence called before him, this was not an unlawful killing. Those officers knew that further terrorist attacks could take place. They set out with the intention to defend and protect the public."

The most damaging of all the jury's assertions yesterday was that firearms officer C12 did not shout "armed police". During evidence four firearms officers were adamant that a call was made. They were backed by three of their surveillance team colleagues – all of whom said the same. But six witnesses who were in the carriage on the day Mr de Menezes was shot said they heard nothing. Yesterday the jury agreed with their accounts.

They also rejected C12's claim that Mr de Menezes had walked towards him before he opened fire. During the inquest, which is estimated to have cost £6m, C12 said that Mr de Menezes walking towards him was the main reason he decided to open fire.

Last year, an Old Bailey jury found the Metropolitan Police guilty of breaching health and safety law in the operation which led to the killing. The force was fined £175,000.

During the inquest they spent £1.3m on five different legal teams for various officers and departments in an attempt to prove that their operation was lawful. Now, the only remaining focus into the investigation is the Independent Police Complaints Commission's inquiry into the conduct of Owen, a surveillance officer who admitted altering his own evidence.

The Special Branch officer removed a line from his notes claiming Ms Dick said the Brazilian could "run on to Tube as not carrying anything". But amid claims from Mr de Menezes's family that it was another "sickening cover-up", the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said yesterday that she wanted the IPCC to report on the matter "as quickly as possible".

The jury 12 answers that ask questions of the Met

1) Did officer C12 shout "Armed police" at Mr de Menezes before firing? Jury's answer: No

2) Did Mr de Menezes stand before he was bear-hugged by officer Ivor?Jury: Yes

3) Did Mr de Menezes move towards C12 before he was grabbed by Ivor? Jury: No

4) Do you consider that any of the following factors caused or contributed to the death of Mr de Menezes?

a) The suicide attacks and attempted attacks of July 2005 and the pressure on the Metropolitan Police in responding to the threat.Jury: Cannot decide

b) A failure to obtain and provide better photographic images of the suspect, Hussain Osman, for the surveillance team.Jury: Yes

c) A failure by police to ensure Mr de Menezes was stopped before he reached public transport.Jury: Yes

d) The difficulty in providing an identification of the man under surveillance [Mr de Menezes] in the time available and in the circumstances after he left Scotia Road.Jury: No

e) The innocent behaviour of Mr de Menezes which increased the suspicions of some officers. Jury: No

f) The fact that the views of the surveillance officers regarding identification were not accurately communicated to the command team and the firearms officers.Jury: Yes

g) The fact that the position of the cars containing the firearms officers was not accurately known to the command team as the firearms officers were approaching Stockwell underground station.Jury: Yes

h) Any significant shortcomings in the communications system as it was operating on the day between the various police teams on the ground and New Scotland Yard.Jury: Yes

i) A failure to conclude, at the time, that surveillance officers should still be used to carry out the stop of Mr de Menezes at Stockwell station even after it was reported that specialist firearms officers could perform the stop.Jury: Yes

John Cooper, a criminal law expert at chambers in 25 Bedford Row, London, said prosecutions against police officers for perjury are rare, writes Robert Verkaik, Law Editor. "Just because a jury disbelieves the evidence of the police it does not follow they think the officer is lying. If there were to be a perjury trial every time the jury rejected police evidence, the system would break down." But if the coroner considers there is evidence that a witness has lied to frustrate the course of justice, he may refer the case to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). The family can ask the CPS to review the evidence. As a last resort the family can bring a private prosecution.

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