How many more unlawful killings must there be?


At 0930 on Friday, 22nd July, 2005, a man emerged from a block of flats in Scotia Road, Tulse Hill, London. He was on his way to fix a broken fire alarm in Kilburn. Shortly over 30 minutes later, this entirely innocent Brazilian electrician was dead, killed by armed officers of the Metropolitan Police Service.

Jean Charles de Menezes is a name that will forever be linked with those of four mass murderers, and four more wannabe mass murderers. Yet he is entirely blameless, an innocent man on his way to work, killed by police officers who have never been named.

Mr Menezes was caught up in the bungled investigation into the aftermath of a failed suicide bombing attack inspired by Al Qaeda, which came just two weeks after the murderous London bombings, also carried out by suicide bombers, which killed 52 and injured hundreds more.

The story of Mr Menezes death began the previous day, when four men attempted to set off suicide bombs targeting the London transport system; a mirror image of the attacks two weeks previously. Naturally, police officers were under huge pressure to find the suspects; yet reports of Mr Menezes shooting read more like a deliberate execution, an assassination.

Police officers following Mr Menezes incorrectly identified him as Osman Hussein, one of the suspects in the previous day’s bombings. Based on this information, senior officers authorised “code red tactics” and officers were ordered to detain him before he went into a tube station.

Surveillance officers followed Mr Menezes into Stockwell Train Station about 1000. He stopped to collect a free newspaper, paid his fare, walked through the barriers and descended the escalator. Meanwhile a Specialist Firearms Team was mobile towards the station, and seconds behind Mr Menezes. Before the train could leave the station, police officers held the doors open, while firearms officers stormed the train, dragged Mr Menezes to the floor, and shot him several times in the head with hollow point rounds – ammunition that is illegal for a battle field but widely used in law enforcement due to the stopping power.

In the ensuing hours and days, employees of the Metropolitan Police Service, including warranted officers of the Crown, would allege that Mr Menezes was acting suspiciously; that he had vaulted the barriers at Stockwell; that he was challenged by officers. All of these things were false.

At the inquest, the jury were instructed that they could not lawfully return a verdict of unlawful killing. Restricted to either an Open verdict, or one of lawful killing, the jury determined an Open verdict. The jury determined by 8 to 2 that no warning was issued before Mr Menezes was killed.

The killing of Mr Menezes may be one of the more high profile killings of an innocent civilian by the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS), but it is far from the only such killing over the years. And such killings are far from one sided – 14 MPS police officers have been killed in the line of duty since 1990. In the same period 336 individuals have lost their lives through contact with the MPS in that period – 253 deaths in custody, 42 while fleeing police pursuit, 19 from road traffic incidents, and 22 have been shot to death by police officers.

Yet in that time no officers have been successfully prosecuted – despite a number of unlawful killing findings at verdict. Remarkably in many cases no such verdict was determined – cases such as that of Harry Stanley, shot dead for carrying a chair leg, where the unlawful killing verdict was overturned by a judicial review, are more frequent than they should be.

On July 3rd this year, Anthony Long was acquitted at a murder trial for the killing in 2013 of Azelle Rodney. In many ways the fact that Mr Long was charged is evidence of progress at the MPS. And yet despite the fact that a judicial inquiry found the killing of Azelle Rodney was unlawful, this was kept from the jury and Mr Long was acquitted.

Three years ago, Simon Harwood, formerly a police constable for the MPS, was acquitted of the manslaughter of Ian Tomlinson, a newspaper vendor who died after being struck by a baton by a police officer on his way home. An inquest verdict concluded it was an unlawful killing.

In the vast majority of deaths there was no prosecution. Indeed, many were not considered unlawful killings – but then Harry Stanley’s unlawful killing verdict was overturned, and Jean Charles de Menezes was not given an unlawful killing verdict.

How many more people have to be killed by the Metropolitan Police Service before proper controls are put in place to protect the public from those who are supposed to protect us? Jean Charles de Menezes died ten years ago today. Since then the MPS has unlawfully killed twice more and many more people have died without such verdicts. How long will the killing continue?