Europe’s top human rights court ruled on Wednesday that British prosecutors were right not to charge police officers involved in the shooting 11 years ago of a Brazilian electrician they thought was a suicide bomber.
Jean Charles de Menezes was shot seven times in the head by specialist firearms officers as he boarded an underground train at Stockwell station in south London on July 22, 2005.
He was killed the day after four Islamist militants had unsuccessfully tried to bomb the British capital’s transport network, and police wrongly thought he was Hussein Osman, one of the attackers on the run.
British security services were on a high state of alert anyway as two weeks earlier four young British Muslims had killed 52 people and themselves in bombings on three underground trains and a bus in the most deadly peacetime attack in Britain.
Despite repeated demands from de Menezes’s family that the officers involved or their superiors should be charged, prosecutors said there was not enough evidence to take action against any individuals.
“The decision not to prosecute any individual officer was not due to any failings in the investigation or the State’s tolerance of or collusion in unlawful acts,” the court said in its ruling.
“Rather, it was due to the fact that, following a thorough investigation, a prosecutor had considered all the facts of the case and concluded that there was insufficient evidence against any individual officer to prosecute.”
In 2007, the Metropolitan Police as an organisation was found guilty of breaching health and safety laws and fined 175,000 pounds ($270,130), after the court heard it had made “shocking and catastrophic” blunders.
Lawyers for the British government told the European Court of Human Rights last June that the death could have been prevented and was the result of serious operational failures by police, but said the killing did not amount to murder.
The family argued that prosecutors were wrong not to charge any individuals, and that the health and safety offence was an inadequate punishment.
“For 10 years our family has been campaigning for justice for Jean because we believe that police officers should have been held to account for his killing,” Patricia Armani Da Silva, de Menezes’s cousin, said in a statement last June.
“Jean’s death is a pain that never goes away for us.”
A jury at an inquest in 2008 delivered an open verdict on the death, ruling that it was not a “lawful killing”, although the coroner had said the death could not be regarded as murder or manslaughter.
The inquest heard there had been communication mistakes and confusion among surveillance officers which led them to the mistaken identification of de Menezes, who lived in the same apartment block as Osman.
The jury at the inquest also ruled that armed police who shot him had not shouted warnings beforehand as they themselves had claimed.
The police have always maintained that they were under extraordinary pressure at the time, with four would-be bombers who had tried to commit mass murder on the run, and that officers who shot de Menezes had feared for their own lives and for those of other passengers on the train.