An Embarrassing Tragedy In Britain

A candle is lit in memory of Jean Charles de Menezes at a vigil outside Stockwell Underground station, in south London, Monday July 25, 2005. The vigil for de Menezes was held by friends and supporters of the Brazilian electrician, who was shot dead on an underground train by police last week, after being mistaken for a suicide bomber. AP

CBS News Correspondent Sheila MacVicar reports for CBSNews.com on the fallout of the accidental shooting of an innocent man during England's subway terror incidents.




It's a story of a litany of mistakes, allegations of lies, an apparent cover-up, and it has forced Britain's most senior police officer to insist that he will not quit — and senior government officials to equally insist they have confidence in him.

All week there has been a steady drip of information that is serving to undermine the position of the Chief of Metropolitan Police during London's most difficult summer.

Outside Stockwell Tube station, a make-shift shrine is growing. Hand-written signs apologize for the shooting death of Brazilian electrician Jean Charles de Menezes, others promise justice. Lit candles gutter as the wicks burn down.

De Menezes was shot here by undercover police on July 22, the day after the failed bombings on the London subway and bus networks. The would-be bombers had escaped, the city was on edge, and there was a massive manhunt underway, with thousands of police, many of them armed and operating in special teams.

The apartment building where de Menezes lived had been under joint police-military surveillance since early that morning after forensic investigators found a gym card with that street address on it, suggesting it was the home of one of the suspected attackers. (Hamdi Isaac aka Hussein Osman tried to detonate a bomb on a subway train at Shepherd's Bush.)

Documents leaked this week from Britain's Independent Police Commission, charged with investigating the shooting, reveal that the circumstances of de Menezes' death were very different than those described by police sources in the aftermath of the killing — a description the police never corrected.

Far from wearing a suspiciously heavy coat, running away into the Stockwell Tube station when challenged by police or vaulting over the turnstiles, the leaked documents and photos show de Menezes was wearing a jean jacket, and CCTV footage shows him walking calmly into the station entrance, stopping to pick up a free newspaper, and using his pre-paid card to access the subway platform.

De Menezes had been followed from his apartment, inexplicably allowed to get on a bus (on both July 7 and 21, London buses had been among the targets), and taken a 15 minute ride to the Tube station. The documents show that by the time de Menezes had reached the station, surveillance officers had concluded that he matched the identity of the bombing suspect. It is still unclear why no attempt was made to stop him before he entered the station.

De Menezes rode the escalator to the train platform level and broke into a run to board a train already at the station. Members of the undercover surveillance team followed him onto the carriage.

A member of the surveillance team is quoted in the report, describing how he had physically restrained de Menezes before he was shot.

"I heard shouting which included the word 'police,' " he said, "and (I) turned to face the male in the denim jacket. He immediately stood up and advanced towards me and CO19 officers (the armed police team). I grabbed the male in the denim jacket by wrapping both my arms around his torso, pinning his arms to his side."

The statement continues: "I then pushed him back on to the seat where he had been previously sitting. I then heard a gun shot very close go my left ear and was dragged away onto the floor of the carriage."

A post-mortem examination showed that de Menezes was shot seven times in the head, and once in the shoulder. Three other bullets missed, and their casings were found lying in the carriage.

In the hours after the shooting, the head of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Ian Blair, appeared at a press conference and said the shooting was linked to the anti-terror operation.

"As I understand the situation, the man was challenged and refused to obey police instructions," he said, adding "his clothing and his behaviour at the station added to (police) suspicions."

But the soldier who was part of the joint surveillance team, charged with documenting the actions of the surveillance and armed teams, and also responsible for video-taping any suspicious persons so their identity could be checked, has told the Police Commission inquiry that he was urinating as de Menezes left the building so he did not use his video camera. The teams thus had no pictures to compare de Menezes with any of the suspects.

Within 24 hours of the shooting, it became clear de Menezes had nothing to do with the bombing plots, and police expressed deep regret at the killing. His family has been offered financial compensation.
  • Robb Todd

Comments

CBSN Live

pop-out
Live Video

Watch CBSN Live

Watch CBS News anytime, anywhere with the new 24/7 digital news network. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.