In September 1999, painter and decorator Harry Stanley was shot to death by armed police in London. Challenged by Metropolitan Police officers who thought the table leg he was carrying was a gun, but given no chance to respond or display the fact that he was unarmed, Stanley’s death was a chilling precursor to the 22 July 2005 shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, equally unarmed, equally harmless and killed in an equally barbaric way, shot eleven times at close range in a London station when police mistook him for a suicide bomber.
In February 2006, the killers of Harry Stanley were officially and finally exonerated, with the Independent Police Complaints Commission ruling that disciplinary action should not be taken against the officers responsible and no charges would be pressed. Today, the police officers responsible for Menezes’s death met a similar fate when they learned that they will not be prosecuted for either murder or manslaughter, although the Metropolitan Police face charges for health and safety violations. The Metropolitan police issues a statement that they “acknowledge and support” the former decision, but are “clearly disappointed” at the latter.
Calls for the officers’ prosecution had been led by both independent investigators and interest groups such as Justice4Jean, a group run by Menezes’s family and their supporters. On July 15th The Guardian announced that the officers would be unlikely to face charges of manslaughter or murder, citing the fact that no police firearms officer has ever been convicted, at a criminal trial, of shooting a civilian regardless of the evidence involved; this was today confirmed by the Crown Prosecution Service, who acted upon the advice of a January report by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. Claiming that there was “insufficient evidence” to prosecute individual officers, and that they had acted properly because they “genuinely believed” that Menezes was a suicide bomber and that, if they did not shoot him, the public would be at risk.
Given their persistent and long-standing campaigns for the prosecution of officers involved, it is no surprise that Menezes’s family are unhappy with the decision. Menezes’s cousin, Alex Pereira, called it “unbelievable”, and decried the fact that they had to wait a year for the decision. On July 15th the Menezes’ lawyer, Harriet Wistrich, stated that the family wanted “to see officer held to account on a personal level”, and that they would likely be “very unhappy” if the officers involved were not prosecuted.
The reaction to this crime has been like all others involving the gross misuse of force on the part of British police officers. From James Ashley, who was shot and killed in a botched drugs raid in 1998, to Harry Stanley in 1999 and Jean Charles de Menezes in 2005, British police officers have repeatedly made strategic and tactical blunders when on armed raids, and innocent people have suffered and died as a result. In all cases, the police officers involved were cleared of any wrong doing by a biased and self-serving Crown Prosecution Service acting on the advice of an Independent Police Complaints Commission that is anything but. Menezes’s family said prior to this decision that they feared a whitewash, and a whitewash is exactly what they have received. Although it is certainly stressful for the individual officers involved, Menezes’s case reveals top-to-bottom failings of the Metropolitan Police and the British police force as a whole.