A young Brazilian man, living and working in London as an electrician, emerged last night as the innocent victim shot dead by police in their hunt for the suicide bombers targeting the capital.
The dead man, killed at Stockwell tube station on Friday after fleeing from armed police, was named as 27-year-old Jean Charles de Menezes. His body was identified by Alex Pereira, a cousin who lives in London and who afterwards told The Observer: ‘I can’t believe they shot him, because he was not a terrorist. He was an honest man.
‘We [the family] are still too shocked to talk about it. But I am sure [that] he didn’t do anything wrong. It was not right for the police to do that.’
Pereira said that the most upsetting part of identifying his cousin was ‘to see bullet wounds in his back and his neck when I went to the mortuary in Greenwich.’
The Brazilian government last night voiced ‘shock and surprise’, saying it had always sought the ‘eradication of the misery’ of terror ‘within international norms and respect for human rights’.
The statement added that Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim, due in London on a previously scheduled visit for a UN reform conference, would be seeking a meeting with Foreign Secretary Jack Straw for ‘clarifications about the death’.
Originally from a farm half an hour from the city of Gonzaga in Minas Gerais state in south-east Brazil, Menezes, who was unmarried, had been living in London for three years. He appears to have lived in a house in Scotia Road, Tulse Hill, south London, which had been under surveillance since the four failed bomb attacks on the city’s tube and bus system last Thursday.
His grandmother, Dona Zilda, who lives on the farm, said early today: ‘He was a lovely, educated young man, a worker. He would never be involved in terrorism.’
Scotland Yard said last night that Menezes ‘was not connected to incidents in central London on 21 July in which four explosive devices were partly detonated. An inquest will be opened to acknowledge formal identification and adjourned, while awaiting the outcome of the investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death.’
Soon after being followed from the Tulse Hill house by plainclothes officers watching the address, Menezes lay dead on the platform at Stockwell station from multiple gunshot wounds. He had failed to obey orders from armed officers to stop.
His death will cause controversy over the way Britain confronts suicide bombers, and has prompted calls for a public inquiry. In its first statement yesterday, the Metropolitan Police Service expressed ‘regret’ over his death.
‘We are now satisfied that he was not connected with the incidents of Thursday, 21 July 2005,’ it said. ‘For somebody to lose their life in such circumstances is a tragedy and one that the Metropolitan Police service regrets.’
Downing Street and Home Office sources last night declined to comment. But Ken Livingstone, London’s Mayor, said the ‘human tragedy’ should be laid at the door of the terrorists.
‘All Londoners will wish to offer their condolences to this man’s family and friends,’ he said. ‘The police acted to do what they believed necessary to protect the lives of the public. This tragedy has added another victim to the toll of deaths for which the terrorists bear responsibility.’
The Muslim Council of Great Britain warned last night that the ‘terrible, tragic mistake’ could have serious consequences. ‘We got lots of hostile emails saying: “How dare you criticise the police?” – and now we hear that he is innocent,’ said media secretary Inayat Bunglawala.
‘We of course understand the police are under a great deal of pressure and it’s a race against time to capture these four suspected bombers. But it is absolutely vital that their rules of engagement are very, very stringent and that this terrible mistake does not occur again.’
He said the police needed to encourage public confidence and co-operation from Muslims and others. ‘For that co-operation to occur, the police also need to be seen to be making every possible endeavour to ensure they are going after the right people.’
The Independent Police Complaints Commission, which automatically examines fatal police firearms incidents, confirmed it was investigating.
Scotland Yard said last night that an unspecified number of officers had been taken off firearms duties, which is standard practice after a weapon has been discharged. The officers are still at work on normal duties.
Armed officers are instructed to shoot at the head, not the chest, when facing a suspected suicide bomber, to disable them faster. The change follows advice from the Israeli police.
Witnesses to Friday’s shooting told of the terror on the man’s face. Mark Whitby, a passenger who was sitting just yards away, said the man was ‘hotly pursued’ on to the train, adding: ‘I looked at his face. He looked from left to right, but he basically looked like a cornered rabbit, like a cornered fox. He looked absolutely petrified … It was a very, very distressing scene to watch, and to hear as well … I saw them kill a man.’
Whitby last night told The Observer: ‘The death of anyone, involved [in terrorism] or not, to me is abhorrent.’
Ken Jones, chief constable of Sussex and chair of the Association of Chief Police Officers’ committee on terrorism and allied matters, appealed to the public yesterday to ‘put themselves into the shoes’ of officers. Dozens of firearms officers have been trained in confronting suicide bombers since 11 September and undercover officers regularly travel on trains. It is not a perfect science,’ he said. ‘I would ask the public to try to put themselves into the shoes of the officers, often young men and women, and understand how difficult these cases are.
‘They have to be prepared to take a life knowing that if they fail to do so, the cost could be hundreds of lives. We have dreaded this day for years, but it is now an operational reality on the streets of Britain.’ He said officers had to intervene at an earlier stage when facing ‘people intent on mass murder’.
The address in Tulse Hill was identified from materials found inside the bombers’ unexploded rucksacks on Thursday and was immediately put under surveillance. When Menezes, dressed in baseball cap, blue fleece and baggy trousers, emerged from it at around 10am on Friday, he was followed. When he headed for the nearby tube station, officers decided to arrest him. An armed unit took over, ordering him to stop. He did not. His unseasonally thick jacket apparently prompted concern that he had explosives strapped beneath.
Witnesses said the man jumped the ticket barriers and was chased into the station, where he half-tripped boarding a train. He was allegedly pushed to the floor by armed police, then, according to eyewitnesses, an officer fired five shots into his head.
Police quickly discovered he did not have a bomb, but it was not until yesterday that he was cleared of any involvement.
Officers are trained to look for ‘precursor activities’ indicating a suicide bomber about to detonate his explosive, thought to include a look of agitation combined with a sense of disconnection from the world. The Met said Menezes’ ‘clothing and behaviour’ caused concerns.
Massoud Shadjareh, of the Islamic Human Rights Commission, also called for a public inquiry. ‘How can you shoot someone on mere suspicion?’ he asked. ‘You can’t even put someone in prison on suspicion.’
Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn said yesterday said the shooting suggested that a ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy was in operation, and suggested it would increase the threat of further attacks. ‘I cannot believe that this degree of violence is going to do anything but encourage more violence.’
Allegations of ‘shoot-to-kill’ policies are highly emotive following the scandal over tactics used by police in Northern Ireland.
Graham Brodie, a barrister who specialises in criminal law, said there should now be an investigation by another police force into whether criminal charges should be laid against any officer for murder or manslaughter. However, Brodie doubted that any officers would be prosecuted.
Did the police act legally?
The police killing of a man mistakenly thought to be linked to the London terror attacks has prompted a huge political controversy, but legally rests on one crucial question: were police reasonably responding to what they saw as a threat to the public?
The incident, which the Metropolitan Police said yesterday was a ‘tragedy’ that it regretted, has automatically triggered a probe by the independent Police Complaints Commission and a coroner’s inquest.
The leading human rights lawyer, Lord Lester, told The Observer that the issue of whether the police had acted properly was not one of human rights legislation, but would hinge instead on the specific facts of the case.
‘The issue rests entirely on the facts – that is, of whether the police were reasonable in thinking that they were acting on a threat to themselves or the public.’
He noted that under existing legislation, police had always had the right to use force to confront such a threat.
He added that the reported change in rules of engagement to deal with the new threat of suspected suicide bombers, by shooting in the head instead of the chest or legs, would also be properly addressed as part of the inquiry.
The shooting at Stockwell Tube Station in south London is the latest in a number of incidents in recent years in which British police personnel’s use of fatal force has been questioned in inquiries or the courts.
An inquest last year found a police marksman guilty of ‘unlawful killing’ when he shot a 46-year-old decorator from Hackney after mistaking a table leg the man was carrying for a gun. But this year, a High Court judge overturned the ruling, saying that there had been insufficient evidence to support the inquest verdict.