LONDON (Reuters) - The coroner overseeing the inquest into the death of Brazilian electrician Jean Charles de Menezes, gunned down by police who wrongly thought he was a suicide bomber, ruled out a verdict of unlawful killing on Tuesday.
Michael Wright said the jury, which has spent about two months hearing evidence about the botched police operation which led up to de Menezes’ death on July 22, 2005, could only return “open” or “lawful killing” verdicts.
“I’m not saying that nothing went wrong in a police operation which resulted in the killing of an innocent man,” Wright told the jury of five men and six women as he began his summing up.
“All interested persons agree that a verdict of unlawful killing could only be left to you if you could be sure that a specific officer had committed a very serious crime: murder or manslaughter”
De Menezes was shot seven times in the head by armed officers as he boarded a train at Stockwell underground station, a day after four would-be suicide bombers tried to attack London’s transport system.
He was targeted because some surveillance officers believed he might have been Hussein Osman, one of those involved in the July 21 attempted bombings.
The inquest has heard that the police operation was beset by problems of confusion and miscommunication that led firearms officers to believe they were confronting a suspect about to detonate an explosive device.
However, some eyewitnesses contradicted statements by police officers that warnings had been shouted to the Brazilian before he was shot and said some appeared to have been “out of control.”
Wright told the jury at the Oval conference centre in South London that they would have to consider which, if any, of the various factors suggested during the inquest had contributed to de Menezes’ death.
He gave them a list which included the failure by police to obtain a better photo of the suspect, Osman, and the pressure placed on the Metropolitan police by the actual and attempted attacks of July 2005.
During the inquest, the firearms officers involved told the court they were acting in lawful defence of themselves and the other people in the train carriage, but de Menezes’ family have accused them of murder.
Wright told the jury they must decide whether the officers’ use of force was justified, given the circumstances.
“You must be satisfied that it is more likely than not that at the time they fired their weapons they honestly, although mistakenly, believed that Mr de Menezes represented an imminent mortal danger to them and to the other people around them.”
“When the threat perceived is so extreme, then the measures taken to deal with such a threat may also have to be of an extreme nature,” he added.
Last year, the Metropolitan Police force was found guilty of breaking health and safety rules in the run-up to the shooting but prosecutors ruled out criminal charges against individual officers.
Writing by Michael Holden; Editing by Steve Addison