Fri, 12 Dec 2008

Jean-Charles de Menezes inquest: majority decides open verdict

The Jean Charles de Menezes family sums up the wider issue at stakes in their press statement: 'This case raises questions of critical constitutional importance. Should our armed police service be protected from meaningful criticism (let alone criminal sanction) or are the public entitled to go about their day to day business free from the fear that they could be shot dead without warning if mistaken for a suspected terrorist?

At 12:53pm today, the jury announced its verdict in the inquest into the death of Jean Charles de Menezes:

SIR MICHAEL WRIGHT: Mr Foreman, I think, if you don't mind, if I ask you to stand up, then everybody can see you and see that it is you who is speaking. I understand that the jury has reached a verdict and answers to all questions and that at least eight of you are agreed on all the answers given. Is that so?

THE FOREMAN OF THE JURY: That's correct, sir.

SIR MICHAEL WRIGHT: Thank you. I am now going to ask you to give your answer on each matter and to say in each case whether you are all agreed or whether the answer has been reached by a majority and, if so, the size of the majority in each case, the numbers in each case. The short form verdict is either lawful killing or open verdict. What is your verdict?


SIR MICHAEL WRIGHT: Thank you. Question 1: did officer Charlie 12 shout the words "armed police" at Mr de Menezes before firing; yes, no or cannot decide?


SIR MICHAEL WRIGHT: I should have asked you in relation to the verdict: is that a unanimous verdict or by a majority?

THE FOREMAN OF THE JURY: It's a majority.

SIR MICHAEL WRIGHT: How many agreed and how many disagreed?

THE FOREMAN OF THE JURY: Eight agreed, two disagreed.

SIR MICHAEL WRIGHT: In answer to question number 1, the one you have just given, is that unanimous or by majority?

THE FOREMAN OF THE JURY: That is unanimous.

SIR MICHAEL WRIGHT: The second question is: did Mr de Menezes stand up from his seat before he was grabbed in a bear hug by Ivor; yes, no or cannot decide?

THE FOREMAN OF THE JURY: Yes, and that's unanimous.

SIR MICHAEL WRIGHT: Thank you. Did Mr de Menezes move towards officer C12 before he was grabbed in a bear hug by officer Ivor?

THE FOREMAN OF THE JURY: No, and that's unanimous.

SIR MICHAEL WRIGHT: Thank you. Turning to the factors for consideration, 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 placed upon the Metropolitan Police in responding to the threat?

THE FOREMAN OF THE JURY: Cannot decide, sir.

SIR MICHAEL WRIGHT: Again, is that inability to decide by a majority or unanimous?

THE FOREMAN OF THE JURY: That's a majority of eight to two.

SIR MICHAEL WRIGHT: Thank you. (b) a failure to obtain and provide better photographic images of the suspect Hussain Osman for the surveillance team?

THE FOREMAN OF THE JURY: Yes, that's unanimous.

SIR MICHAEL WRIGHT: (c) a failure by the police to ensure that Mr de Menezes was stopped before he reached public transport?

THE FOREMAN OF THE JURY: Yes, unanimous, sir.

SIR MICHAEL WRIGHT: Thank you. (d) the general difficulty in providing identification of the man under surveillance, Mr de Menezes, in the time available and in the circumstances after he had left the block at Scotia Road?

THE FOREMAN OF THE JURY: No, and that's unanimous.

SIR MICHAEL WRIGHT: (e) the innocent behaviour of Mr de Menezes which increased the suspicions of some officers?

THE FOREMAN OF THE JURY: No, that's a majority of eight to two, sir.

SIR MICHAEL WRIGHT: Thank you. The fact that the views of the surveillance officers regarding identification were not accurately communicated to the command team and the firearms officers?

THE FOREMAN OF THE JURY: Yes, unanimous.

SIR MICHAEL WRIGHT: (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 station?

THE FOREMAN OF THE JURY: Yes, unanimous.

SIR MICHAEL WRIGHT: (h) any significant shortcomings in the communications system as it was operating on the day between the various police teams on the ground and with New Scotland Yard?

THE FOREMAN OF THE JURY: Yes, unanimous again, sir.

SIR MICHAEL WRIGHT: (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?

THE FOREMAN OF THE JURY: Yes, unanimous.

SIR MICHAEL WRIGHT: That concludes your verdict. I am very much obliged to you, Mr Foreman, thank you.

The family's reaction:

Is the family pleased with the verdict? Do they feel justice has been done?

The decision today will not bring our cousin Jean back.

However, it goes at least some way to recognising the failings that led to his death. We thank the jury for the considerable time they contributed to this inquest and their careful review of all the evidence within the boundaries given to them.

Agencies and institutions involved in all aspects of this case must now demonstrate their own accountability and make fundamental changes to their practices and procedures.

In their conclusions, the jury have delivered a strong critique of the police and its failings. They have said that they do not believe that the police gave a warning before shots were fired, or that Jean advanced towards firearms officers in the tube train. The family appreciate this conclusion.

We have come a little closer to the truth during the course of the inquest. Nevertheless, the gagging of the options available to the jury constitutes a abject failure of the role of the inquest.

What will the family do now?

The family has consistently struggled for justice, which has not yet been delivered. We will continue to pursue this aim.

The next stage is a judicial review of the Coroner's decision not to allow an unlawful killing verdict. We will also be examining all other legal avenues because we feel that the Coroner has ensured that the inquest failed in its fundamental role to properly examine why our cousin Jean was killed.

As the legal situation stands today, another innocent member of the public could be shot and another family could go through the same ordeal as us.

Will the family be asking for compensation?

The family has not pursued this as a priority. Our central concern has always been to find out the truth about Jean's death.

When we buried Jean in 2005,we made a promise to him that we would make sure that justice was done. Jean was a great believer in justice, one of the things he most loved about living in Britain was respect for the rule of law and that nobody was above the law. We owe it to his memory to make sure that nobody else suffers the way that he did.

In light of the verdict, we would nevertheless hope that any issues around compensation to be settled in a dignified manner, without obstruction or delay.

What is your message to Sir Ian Blair?

Today's verdict confirms that Sir Ian Blair has repeatedly evaded any responsibility for the killing of an innocent man, by misleading the public in the aftermath of the shooting so that no-one in his police force is held to account over the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes.

However, having misrepresented the shooting as simply a 'tragic mistake' rather than the result of terrible policy and procedural failures, it is clear that Jean's death will always be Sir Ian's legacy, the judgement on his time as Commissioner that he will never escape.

Has the family any message to the jury?

We consider that the jury were given unacceptable restraints upon the verdict they could deliver and feel that, within the choices available to them, they tried their best to deliver a fair verdict. We thank them for their handling of this difficult task.

We feel that in light of the evidence heard, a free decision by the jury would have at least have left a possibility of a verdict of unlawful killing.

It is disappointing that the Coroner made clear attempts to exclude the public, media and the family's campaign from the inquest.

The family would also like to express their appreciation for the many messages of support from the British public during this difficult time.

The family staged a protest in court. Do they stand by their actions? Do they feel these actions made a difference?

The family stands by our actions because we feel that we were left with no choice. We wanted the jury to know that they could have the freedom to make their decision, despite the limitations placed upon them.

Do you think Cressida Dick should resign?

The family should not have to carry the responsibility of this decision. Public bodies have a responsibility to hold her accountable and they have failed to do so.

In light of DAC Dick's direct involvement as the designated senior officer of a disastrously handled operation that led to the shooting of an innocent man, her promotion in the aftermath of the shooting was considered by us to be a deliberate slap in the face for our family and our view on this remains unchanged.

We once again call on the Independent Police Complaints Commission, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Metropolitan Police Authority to review the inquest evidence and to see what appropriate action needs to be taken to hold public servants to account.

Why did you ask your legal team to withdraw from the inquest?

The family felt that they were left with no other option. We felt the coroner's decision to restrict the jury's decision-making completely undermined their role to freely return whatever verdict they felt was correct based on the evidence. We could no longer participate in a process which was so clearly a whitewash.

More details on the views of the different parties on the choice of verdict and questions offered to the jury can be found the post inquest briefing and legal submissions on verdicts.

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