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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Police prosecuted under health & safety laws for Stockwell shooting

Graffiti of Stockwell London Underground Station on tube mapHealth & Safety breaches but not manslaughter

A year ago this week Jean Charles de Menezes was shot eight times and killed in a Tube carriage at Stockwell station by anti terrorism officers. It's sad that it's taken a year to come to a conclusion and undoubtedly the press will be more concerned with the lack of a manslaughter conviction rather than the serious health & safety breaches.

The senior lawyer on the case Stephen O'Doherty summed up by saying that the police shot "because they thought that Mr de Menezes had been identified to them as a suicide bomber and that if they did not shoot him, he would blow up the train, killing many people,"...."while a number of individuals had made errors in planning and communication, and the cumulative result was the tragic death of Mr de Menezes, no individual had been culpable to the degree necessary for a criminal offence."

To successfully prosecute for manslaughter it would have to be proven that the officers did not "honestly and genuinely" hold beliefs that de Menzes was a terrorist, which Mr O'Doherty said was impossible to prove.

From that standing the prosecution were onto a loser from the start. However it's still a fairly damning situation that there was sufficient evidence to show that the police were guilty under sections of the Health and Safety at Work Act for failing to provide for the health, safety welfare of non-employees. The non employee in this situation being Jean Charles de Menezez and I'd say that shooting someone at point blank range eight times isn't going to do too much for their health & safety.

Although, Ian Blair was not personally singled out for attack here, he's not going to be too wild about the outcome. However, putting on a brave face the police issued the following statement "Clearly we and our national police colleagues will need to consider issues raised by this prosecution and for the implementation of the Kratos policy, which has already been the subject of extensive review since 22 July.

"We believe it remains a legitimate policy and, in the absence of a viable alternative, we will continue to use it where necessary to protect London and Londoners from any threat posed by suicide bombers."

The full statements from the police and Stephen O'Doherty are here.

I'd be interested to hear your views on this. I'm all for protecting the public in the face of a legitimate terrorist threat, but in this instance it's now been proven that mistakes and errors in communications were made. Whatever apologies or statements the police make about this is not going to bring an innocent man back to life. Thankfully we're not used to innocent people getting shot by the police. It doesn't fit in the public's psyche that well. But there have been so many cover ups and leaks of altered log books and dodgy CCTV surrounding this case. You have a feeling that someone ought to be held responsible - but who?

Surely there is something that can be learnt from Jean Charles' death and it saddens me to see the police still taking a defensive stance of the Kratos "shoot to kill" policy - particularly when mistakes in carrying out that policy can lead to the death of innocent people.


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