De Menezes shooting: Police guilty of 'catastrophic errors'
By Cahal Milmo
Published: 02 November 2007
Some 831 days after Jean Charles de Menezes was shot dead by police with seven bullets to the head, the first public declaration of blame was made when the Metropolitan Police was found guilty yesterday of making 19 catastrophic errors in the operation which led to his death.
The conviction of Britain's biggest police force at the Old Bailey for failing in its duty to ensure the safety of the public brought immediate calls for Sir Ian Blair, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, to resign.
Mr de Menezes, a 27-year-old Brazilian electrician, was killed by armed officers on 22 July 2005, after he was mistaken for one of the men behind the failed suicide attacks on London Transport the day before. Despite two inquiries by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, no charges or disciplinary action has yet been brought against any of the officers involved.
At the dramatic conclusion of an unprecedented four-week trial, the force was convicted of committing a succession of mistakes during a surveillance operation on the block of flats in south London where Mr de Menezes lived.
The failed operation resulted in the Brazilian being allowed to board two buses and a Tube train despite pursuing officers believing that he could be Hussain Osman, one of four fugitive bombers who had lived in the same apartment block.
The court heard that during a six-hour period on 22 July, 19 key failings took place that included an "inexplicable" four-hour delay in sending a team from the CO19 firearms unit to support the surveillance team and a critical breakdown in communication in the "noisy and chaotic" control room which led to senior officers, led by "Gold Commander" Cressida Dick, wrongly believing that Mr de Menezes had been identified five times as Osman.
Mr Justice Henriques, the trial judge, said he accepted the botched operation was "very much an isolated breach brought about by quite extraordinary circumstances". In an unusual move, the jury added a rider to its verdict saying that Ms Dick, now a deputy assistant commissioner, bore "no personal culpability" for the failings that led to Mr de Menezes's death.
But the judge underlined that the Yard had fallen short to a "significant and meaningful extent" and significant aspects of its conduct remained unjustified: "One person died and many others placed in potential danger ... There was a serious failure of accurate communication which has not been explained."
The force was fined £175,000 and ordered to pay costs of £385,000 after it was found unanimously guilty of a single charge of breaching section 3(i) of the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act, which requires all employers to do everything reasonable to protect the public from harm during their activities. The jury took less than five hours to reach its verdict.
The family of Mr de Menezes expressed fury at the conduct of the Yard and its lawyers during the trial, accusing the police of a "sickening" attempt to smear the Brazilian by suggesting his behaviour and personal life could have contributed to his death. The jury was told a post-mortem examination showed Mr de Menezes had taken cocaine – although it was highly unlikely the drug could have still been affecting him on the day of his death – and had a forged immigration stamp in his passport.
Ronald Thwaites QC, for the defence, said it was possible these factors explained why the Brazilian had allegedly behaved in an "aggressive and threatening manner" as armed police approached him in a London Underground train carriage. Police were also accused of manipulating a composite photograph of Mr de Menezes and Osman to make the two men look more alike. The claim was strongly denied.
Harriet Wistrich, the solicitor for the de Menezes family, called for a "full and fearless" inquest now to be held into the events of 22 July, insisting that evidence presented in the trial and available elsewhere justified the bringing of manslaughter charges against individual officers.