The police might normally be expected to celebrate a guilty verdict, but the outcome of the trial that concluded Thursday at London’s Old Bailey courthouse caused consternation among the city’s law enforcement officers.
That’s because the defendant was London’s Metropolitan police force, in the dock over the death of Jean Charles de Menezes — the Brazilian electrician who was shot seven times in the head by police in a London underground station on July 22, 2005, in the tense atmosphere that followed the terror attacks on the city’s transport system two weeks earlier and a failed attack the previous day.
Standing outside the court after the verdict was delivered, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair acknowledged that de Menezes’ death was “a tragedy,” adding, “He was an innocent man.”
Despite the verdict, the Brazilian’s family and human rights campaigners say the trial failed to answer the question of why de Menezes was killed. The Crown Prosecution Service decided there was insufficient evidence to charge individual officers with the shooting, and instead brought a case under health and safety legislation on the surreal grounds that the police had “failed to provide for the health, safety and welfare” of de Menezes and other members of the public.
The case highlights the dilemma facing authorities across the world responsible for confronting terror while protecting the rights of innocent citizens. De Menezes’ shooting, said Blair, “was the culmination of actions by many hands, all of whom were doing their best to handle the terrible threat facing London on that day: a race against time to find the failed suicide bombers of the day before.”
Blair expressed his “deep regrets,” but reiterated his determination to stay on as police chief in the face of calls for his resignation from Britain’s two largest opposition parties, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. Labour Home Secretary Jacqui Smith expressed her “full confidence” in Blair, who insists that the police acted properly in what he called “an extraordinary situation.”