Britain Will Not Charge Officers Who Fatally Shot Man After Terrorist Attacks
Saturday, February 14, 2009
LONDON, Feb. 13 -- British prosecutors announced Friday that they would not seek charges against police in the case of an unarmed Brazilian electrician shot to death by officers who mistook him for a suicide bomber shortly after attacks on London's public transit system in July 2005.
After the Crown Prosecution Service announced the decision, the family of the dead man, Jean Charles de Menezes, 27, called the decision "deeply upsetting." But they said they would drop further legal action against the police, effectively ending a case that has divided Britons for more than 3 1/2 years.
De Menezes was shot seven times in the head by two officers who confronted him on July 22, 2005, on a subway train in a south London station. The officers later testified that they believed de Menezes was a suspect in a failed terrorist attack the previous day, in which four men attempted to detonate homemade bombs on London trains and buses.
All four attackers were later convicted in those attempts, which came two weeks after a nearly identical attack in London killed 52 train and bus passengers, plus four suicide bombers, and injured more than 700 other people.
Friday's decision resulted from a Prosecution Service review of evidence raised during a three-month inquest that ended in December. Jurors had returned an "open verdict," meaning they were unable to reach a definitive conclusion about what happened.
The inquest judge had barred the jury from finding that officers had "unlawfully" killed de Menezes, saying the evidence did not support that conclusion. Faced with either exonerating the police or returning an open verdict, jurors sent a message that was widely seen as a rejection of the officers' testimony.
On Friday, the Prosecution Service lawyer, Stephen O'Doherty, said he had conducted the follow-up review to determine if the officers had committed perjury or if anything else raised at the inquest warranted criminal charges against the officers or police leadership.
"I have now concluded that there is insufficient evidence that any offense was committed by any individual officers in relation to the tragic death of Mr. de Menezes," he said.
O'Doherty noted that "the jury did not accept the officers' accounts of what happened" on the day of the shooting.
The two officers, identified only by the code names Charlie 2 and Charlie 12, testified at the inquest that they clearly identified themselves as armed police and shot only when de Menezes walked toward them in a suspicious way. But passengers who witnessed the shooting testified that the police did not identify themselves and that de Menezes did nothing suspicious.
"Although there were some inconsistencies in what the officers said at the inquest, there were also inconsistencies in what passengers had said," O'Doherty said. "A jury could not be sure that any officer had deliberately given a false account of events."
The de Menezes family, which has waged a public campaign to hold the police to account for the shooting, reacted angrily to Friday's decision.
"We are all in shock and simply cannot understand how the deliberate killing of an innocent man and an attempt by the Metropolitan police to cover it up does not result in a criminal offence," said a statement issued by Vivian Figuierdo, a cousin of de Menezes.
"The inquest put the truth out there for all the public to see, but the authorities want us to forget the truth to stop us getting justice," Figuierdo said in the statement. "But we will never forget."
Estelle du Boulay, a spokeswoman for the family, said in an interview that the family would take no further legal action because "it would be lengthy and stressful and expensive to the public, and when we weigh it all up, the family was left with little faith in the legal system."
However, last night, Harriet Wistrich, an attorney for the family, said in an e-mail that the family's statement "does not mean that we will not be pursuing any other legal actions." She did not elaborate.