LONDON (Reuters) - A Brazilian man who was mistaken by police for a suicide bomber and shot dead on a London underground train was not the victim of a “lawful killing,” an inquest jury decided on Friday.
Directed by the coroner to decide between only two possibilities -- lawful killing or an open verdict -- the jury chose the latter, in a blow to Scotland Yard police and a boon to the family who want those involved to face criminal charges.
Jean Charles de Menezes, an electrician living and working in London, was shot seven times in the head by a specialist firearms squad in front of shocked commuters as he boarded a train at Stockwell station in south London on July 22, 2005.
De Menezes was targeted because some undercover officers believed he might have been Hussein Osman, one of four Islamist militants who had unsuccessfully tried to bomb London’s transport network the day before.
An open verdict was the most critical one available to the jury after the coroner Michael Wright ruled out unlawful killing during his summing up, saying it was not justified to consider the death as murder or manslaughter.
That decision led to a walk-out by several members of the de Menezes family, who after the verdict vowed to challenge his ruling in the courts and said they would press for prosecutors to reconsider criminal action against individual officers.
“I am very happy with the verdict today,” the Brazilian’s mother Maria Otone da Menezes said in a statement. “Since the moment the coroner ruled out the option of unlawful killing, I was feeling very sad. But today I feel reborn.”
The inquest heard the botched police operation was beset by problems of confusion and miscommunication that led firearms officers, who were late arriving on the scene, to believe de Menezes was a suicide bomber who was about to detonate a bomb.
Eyewitnesses also contradicted statements by these officers that warnings of “armed police” had been shouted to the Brazilian before he was shot and said some officers appeared to have been “out of control.”
In its verdict, the jury ruled there had been no warning nor had de Menezes moved towards officers as they claimed.
The acting head of Scotland Yard said his force took “full responsibility” but added officers had faced “unparalleled challenges” in trying to hunt down four failed suicide bombers before they could try again to commit “mass murder.”
“We have heard the jury’s conclusions and we now need to take time to give proper consideration to them,” Paul Stephenson said. “In the face of enormous challenges faced by officers on that day, we made a most terrible mistake. I am sorry.”
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Additional reporting by Michael Holden and Kylie MacLellan; Editing by Steve Addison