Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Long quest for truth, let alone justice

AN inquest is due to open on September 22 into the death of Jean Charles de Menezes, the Brazilian electrician killed in a police operation at Stockwell station in south London on July 22, 2005. This year on the third anniversary of his death, family and friends of Jean Charles unveiled a paper wreath in the shape and colours of the Brazilian flag, across the road from the Houses of Parliament, to show this innocent man is not forgotten, and nor is their quest for justice.

What happened to Jean Charles is well-known. That morning he received a call to go to premises in Kilburn and fix the fire alarm. He left his flat in Tulse Hill, south London, unaware that, in the wake of the London bombings, the block was under surveillance by a security team including at least one under-cover soldier. They were meant to be watching for a suspect called Hussain Osman, but apparently decided Jean-Charles resembled him enough. Followed by police officers, Jean Charles boarded a no.2 bus. When he got to Brixton he saw that the station was closed, so stayed on the bus to Stockwell. There he paused to pick up a Metro newspaper, then paid his fare by Oyster card and went down to board a train. He had taken a seat when, guided by the surveillance team, a Special Operations unit entered the carriage, and after Jean-Charles had been restrained, they shot him eight times, seven in the head, as he lay on the floor.

What will also be well-remembered are the lies fed an obliging media in the first days after this killing. We were told that Jean-Charles was wearing an unseasonably bulky garment such as a quilted or puffa jacket, or big overcoat, so that they feared he could be carrying explosives. In fact he only had on a thin denim jacket. It was said he had vaulted the ticket barrier in his haste to escape pursuers. As we know, he had paid by Oyster. He had supposedly raced down the escalator and ignored police calling on him to stop. But the evidence indicates he had no idea he was being followed, and only raced across the platform to get a seat on the train, possibly because he was late for work.

The CCTV footage that could have shown what happened was initially "missing". It was said the cameras were not working, or they had not been reloaded after police took away tapes the previous day because of the bombings. But London Transport denied there were problems with the cameras. And the "missing" tapes mysteriously turned up again after a health and safety(!) hearing cleared police.

In the hours immediately after the shooting, Commissioner Sir Ian Blair telephoned the Chairman of the Independent Police Ccmplaints Commission(IPCC) and wrote a letter to the Home Office stating that "the shooting that has just occurred at Stockwell is not to be referred to the IPCC and that they will be given no access to the scene at the present time." Sir Ian also told a press conference that officers had shouted a warning before they opened fire.

Labour mayor Ken Livingstone dismayed civil rights supporters and seriously dented his standing on the Left by defending the police action as understandable in the circumstances, and continuing to stand by Sir Ian Blair. Tory Brian Coleman sought to smear the campaign for justice for Jean Charles by association, on the meagre basis that Assad Rehman, who is working with the family, had been an adviser to George Galloway MP, and therefore the campaign was "politically motivated". Anybody who knows anything about anti-racism and opposition to police brutality in London will know that Assad Rehman has been a dedicated worker in the Newham Monitoring Project since well before Galloway set foot in the East End, and will probably be still there after the Respect MP goes. Besides, does Coleman think poor Brazilians are docile folk who, unless politically got at, will take off their caps and mumble a prayer when they hear their brother has had his head blown off on the way to work?

The tributes that have continued to be laid to Jean Charles de Menezes outside Stockwell station reflect the feelings of ordinary people, unlike the politicians and press, of shock at the brutal slaying, sympathy for Jean Charles de Menezes' family, and the frightening thought that this could happen to almost any of us. There is also anger at the way the police and people in authority whom we are supposed to trust lied to us, rather than admit the truth.

This was not the first innocent man killed by the police. The inquest opens on September 22, by coincidence nine years after Harry Stanley, a man going home with a table leg which his brother had repaired, wrapped in a plastic bag, was shot dead by police officers, because someone had reported an Irishman carrying a gun had left the pub.

But the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes marked an escalation, and raised questions which remain unanswered. The hit team used hollow-tipped bullets which cause maximum injury, and are not standard police issue. Professor Michael Clarke, Professor of Defence Studies at King's College London, suggested that the manner of the killing looked like the work of special forces, rather than police.

On 4 August 2005, The Guardian reported that the newly-created Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SRR), a special forces unit specialising in covert surveillance, were involved in the operation that led to the shooting. Anonymous Whitehall sources stressed that the SRR were involved only in intelligence-gathering, and that Jean Charles was shot by armed police not by members of the SRR or other soldiers. Others say the squaddies were on the train. In the past Parliament would have had to be told if army units were participating in actions within Britain.

Jean Charles family and friends in the Justice4Jean campaign are looking forward to the
long-awaited inquest on September 22. But they are wondering about the way it is being set up. The coroner has agreed to allow almost 50 police officers to give evidence at the inquest anonymously, behind screens and with code names. Justice4Jean says this is a real disgrace - "the public should be able to see the police officers involved so they can face responsibility for their actions and find it hard to believe that all of these officers need such a high level of protection. We fear this will affect the quality of evidence they will give and goes against the spirit of an open, public investigation".

It strikes me that this fuss about shielding police officers could indicate there is something about their identity which will be pertinent to the questions; or it could simply be another attempt to hoodwink the public, by replanting the myth that this case has something to do with "terror", and pretending the police - or whatever other state forces were involved - have genuine grounds for fear. It is we who need security and protection from the state.

Justice For Jean website:

The campaign is starting a blog to follow the inquest:



Post a Comment

<< Home