Sunday, December 07, 2008

Still no justice for Jean Charles

ON July 22, the anniversary of Jean Charles' death at the hands of the Metropolitan Police,
his relatives and friends took their message to Westminster, to make sure neither Jean , nor their call for Justice for Jean, were forgotten.

ON September 22, 1999, a Scots-born painter and decorator called Harry Stanley was on his way home to his family in Hackney when he was shot dead by two policemen, apparently acting on a false tip-off that "an Irishman carrying a gun" had left the pub. Harry was carrying a table-leg that his brother had repaired, wrapped in a plastic bag. .

In November 2004 an inquest jury returned a verdict of "unlawful killing". The two officers were suspended. But the verdict was overturned in the High Court after protests by police firearms officers handing in their weapons, and the suspension being lifted.

As campaigners said, this meant no family could feel safe. But though the two officers were arrested on fresh forensic evidence in 2005, the police complaints commission recommended that no further action be taken against them.

On September 22 this year, a special court opened in the unusual setting of the Oval cricket ground for an inquest into the death of Brazilian electrician Jean Charles de Menezes, shot dead by police on a tube train at Stockwell underground station on July 22, 2005. With both police and a private security firm on duty each day, screens erected to conceal many police witnesses from the public, and individual senior officers represented by their own lawyers, the inquest has lasted almost three months, and cost £3 million.

We heard that the commander who sent surveillance officers to an address in south London had not realised it was not a house but one flat in a block. That the suspect bomber they were supposed to be watching had not in fact returned there after a failed bombing the day before. That the control room at Scotland Yard was crowded and noisy, so the officer receiving messages from the team following Jean Charles de Menezes who were not sure if this was their man, had a job being heard over the hubbub. We saw that Jean Charles was able to take a bus to Stockwell, and to pass two officers before he entered the tube station. That he was not wearing bulky clothing, as police claimed, suggesting they thought he was concealing explosives, but a thin denim jacket.

Jean Charles mother and relatives sat in court hearing how their loved one was held down while police officers poured bullets into his head at close range. And we all heard a senior police officer, asked to give his opinion as to what went wrong that day, answer twice that so far as he could see, nothing went wrong.

Last week, the jury were sent to consider their verdict. But before this the coroner, former High Court judge, Sir Michael Wright, began summing up seven weeks of evidence by telling jurors they will only be allowed to return a verdict of lawful killing or an open verdict. Having considered all the evidence, a verdict of unlawful killing was "not justified", he said.

Throughout this case, people had born the grisly evidence, the casual confidence of police witnesses, and the cheerful bonhomie of legal professionals and court officials with quiet decorum, though Jean Charles' mother was understandably grief-stricken. But as the inquest reached its closing stages on Thursday, after hearing what the coroner had said, people evidently felt they had heard enough, and had nothing to lose by protest. As an observer reported:

"Five members of the de Menezes family unzipped their coats to reveal t-shirts with the slogans 'Your Legal Right to Decide' and 'Unlawful Killing Verdict' in full view of the jury.

"The relatives then walked from their seats towards the jury box. Court ushers and security guards hurried forward, intercepted them and ushered the group out of the courtroom through a side door".

Later that day they issued this Statement: 4.12.08

Today the family both here and in Brazil instructed our lawyers to withdraw from the inquest proceedings. We do this with deep regret and frustration but we feel we have been left with no alternative.

For three and a half years we have had one simple request, that all the evidence be put in front of the jury and for them to be allowed to decide.

We have faced a system which has repeatedly blocked, silenced and stopped all the avenues we have tried in order to get justice. And now we face the situation that after three months, 100 witnesses and a cost of £3 million pounds, the jury is being restricted from considering all the options. We have full confidence in the jury to return a verdict that will deliver justice for Jean. The jury have the legal right to return any verdict they want to and we hope that these 11 ordinary members of the public will do the right thing.

Jean loved living in Britain. One of the reasons he would tell me why liked this country was because it was the home of justice and fairness. We would like to thank the British public for all their support, especially over the last few days.

We do not want any other family to go through what we have gone through. Unless there is justice, the tragic death of Jean could so easily be repeated. Our campaign for justice continues and we hope the jury will do the right thing.

Vivien Figuerdo on behalf of the Menezes Family.

Sir Iain Blair - out of office, but not yet out of pocket

Sir Ian Blair was criticised by senior colleagues at New Scotland Yard after he sought a £25,000 performance bonus during criminal proceedings over the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, while on a salary of £228,000 and with rank-and-file officers facing the prospect of pay cuts. Blair wrote an angry letter to his deputy, Paul Stephenson, effectively accusing him of disloyalty after discovering that he had formally waived his own bonus.

Sir Ian had been under fire from both within and without the police over a number of issues, but was defended by his prime minister namesake and, on the Menezes shooting, by Mayor Ken Livingstone. Then on October 2, with the Menezes inquest under way, he announced he would resign as Metropolitan Police Commissioner, with effect from 1 December. He blamed a lack of support from London mayor Boris Johnson, saying that "without the mayor's backing I do not think I can continue". Home Secretary Jacqui Smith and Prime Minister Gordon Brown paid tribute to Blair's service. Sir Paul Stephenson took over on the 28th of November .

With allegations that he covered up discrimination and corruption in the Met, besides upsetting City police by proposing a merger, and lobbied MPs to support the government's detention policies, it is perhaps not surprising that London's top cop decided to spend money on public relations. It was reported in October that Blair had used public money to pay an estimated £15,000 to Impact Plus, owned by a skiing partner and close friend of his for 30 years Andy Miller No other firm had been invited to bid for the contract. The company already enjoyed IT consultancy contracts with the Met, but in addition, Martin Samphire of Impact Plus became Blair's 'image consultant'. Impact Plus received more than £3 million of police work from Scotland Yard over the six-year period of Ian Blair's rule.

Blair is entitled to a full police pension, estimated to be worth about £160,000 per year, based on his £240,000 commissioner’s salary. Blair could receive his £234,000-a-year salary until his contract expires in February 2010. However, Sir Ian will lose his chauffeur-driven car and use of a £1 million flat in south-west London.



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