Friday, 12 December 2008

De Menezes - the most damning verdict the Coroner would allow

The jury's verdict in the inquest of Jean Charles de Menezes is about as damning for the Police as it is possible to get. Not only have they returned an Open verdict (as opposed to one of lawful killing) but their answers to the 12 specific questions posed by the Coroner are (with a single exception) utterly damning of the Met Police and their methods.

In simple terms, I think it is quite clear from this verdict and the answers given that the Coroner was wrong to rule out the option of unlawful killing. No one can say that this is what the jury would have decided, but their verdict and answers show that this should at least have been allowed to be discussed.

On the questions surrounding whether Jean Charles de Menezes moved towards the firearms officers, the jury have accepted that he stood up, but rejected the idea that he moved towards the guns - in direct contradiction to what one officer told the inquest. The jury also rejected an officer's claim that they shouted a warning.

On the matter of police procedures, the jury found that communications didn't work, that the Police had failed to give officers decent photos of the real suspect, that they had failed to stop de Menezes earlier and that the firearms officers were in the wrong place. All of these, said the jury, contributed to the death.

So the Met faces huge problems on two levels:

- first, they were institutionally ill-equipped to deal with this situation. That, essentially, is why they were found guilty of the health and safety case. At the time, that verdict was played down to such an extent that nobody had to resign. Now the Met and the Government are making it quite clear that everything has now changed and the Police are able to cope. Hypocrisy - surely not.

- Second, what happens with the firearms officers and other individuals concerned. At the top, most people seem to have gone for one reason or another (but none because of the killing itself). Only Cressida Dick remains. At the bottom, the firearms officers have been disbelieved by the jury over crucial issues and yet will not face any charges. The Met Police Federation are harping on about the extremely troubled times surrounding this incident and how officers were under extreme pressure. I do appreciate this, but surely we have to be able to rely on our Police Forces to uphold the law properly at ALL times. They cannot be allowed to give up on the rule of law and such things as shooting innocent people at times of stress.

It might sound cheesy, but it's true, if we start renouncing the rule of law in response to terrorism then the terrorists have won.

That is why the Government and the Met cannot simply walk past this verdict and claim that they have made everything better. It's not simply a matter of better radios, it is a matter of attitude. Until the public truly believe that the Met don't think in the way they did on 22nd July 2005, then nothing will have changed and there will still be a fundamental lack of trust in the officer meant to protect us.

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