November 1, 2007 11:34 pm

Police guilty over de Menezes shooting

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London’s Metropolitan Police force was fined £175,000 on Thursday after being found guilty of breaching health and safety laws over the fatal shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes.

The innocent Brazilian electrician was shot seven times by specialist firearms officers on a Tube train at Stockwell station after being mistaken for one of the failed suicide bombers who launched attacks in London on July 21 2005.

In an Old Bailey trial, prosecutors had set out a catalogue of alleged shortcomings in the police operation that led up to the false identification and de Menezes’ subsequent death on July 22.

On Thursday, after less than two days of deliberations, a jury returned a guilty verdict on the single count of failing to discharge a duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act, in relation to members of the public including de Menezes.

But, in returning the verdict, jurors added that they attached “no personal culpability” to Commander Cressida Dick, the officer in charge of the operation that led to the shooting.

The result is a further blow for Sir Ian Blair, the embattled Met police commissioner, who was in court to hear the verdict and faced immediate calls to resign. In a statement outside court, the commissioner claimed that the case provided “no evidence at all of systemic failure” by the Met.

“I therefore intend to continue to lead the Met in its increasingly successful efforts to reduce crime and to deter and disrupt terrorist activities in London and elsewhere in the UK,” he said.

Sir Ian received the backing of Jacqui Smith, home secretary, who said he had her “full confidence” and that of a majority of London’s Metropolitan Police Authority led by Len Duvall, its chairman; Ken Livingstone, London mayor; and other senior police officers.

But calls for Sir Ian’s resignation from both the Conservative party and Liberal Democrats threatened to further damage Gordon Brown’s hopes of securing broad support for his anti-terrorism strategy even though, with parliament in recess, the immediate fallout may be limited.

The guilty verdict carried a potentially unlimited fine. But in sentencing the Met, Mr Justice Henriques said he was aware that any fine could have a “deleterious effect” on the ability of the police to “protect the public and apprehend offenders”. He added that the force had been engaged in a “unique and difficult operation”.

Nevertheless, the judge highlighted the force’s failure to get a firearms team to the home of de Menezes more quickly – meaning it was not in position when the electrician left the property.

He said the evidence made clear that de Menezes was never positively identified as the terror suspect.

“There was a serious failure of accurate communication which has not been explained,” he commented.

The judge also pointed out that passengers on the buses and train that de Menezes used that morning faced the potential danger of travelling with a suicide bomber and said that the police had fallen short “to a significant and meaningful” extent.

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