UK officer 'misled public' over shooting of Brazilian

Report claims info deliberately withheld; Jean Charles de Menezes shot 7 times in the head by police hunting suspects following London bombings.

de menezes 88 (photo credit: )
de menezes 88
(photo credit: )
A senior British police officer knew within hours that marksmen had wrongly killed a Brazilian electrician they had mistaken for a terrorist, but deliberately withheld the information from superiors and misled the public, an inquiry into the killing reported Thursday. Jean Charles de Menezes, 27, was shot seven times in the head in a subway car by counter-terrorism police hunting suspects following London's 2005 transit network bombings. The report by the Independent Police Complaints Commission said that Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman, head of London's police counterterrorism unit, told a group of journalists at a briefing on the afternoon of the shooting that de Menezes was not linked to the failed bombings a day earlier. Such briefings are often held on condition of anonymity. But a couple of hours later he allowed the police force to put out a press release saying it was not known whether the dead man was one of the failed bombers. The report said Hayman must have misled the public on one of the two occasions. "He could not have believed both inconsistent statements were true," it said. It also said Hayman "deliberately withheld the information ... despite being asked for information" from Metropolitan Police Commissioner Ian Blair and government officials. The July 22, 2005 shooting occurred 15 days after four suicide bombers killed 52 bus and subway passengers in the capital, and just a day after a failed attempt to detonate bombs on the transport system. Tensions across London were high. Officers initially claimed the Brazilian was a suspect linked to the attacks and police told reporters his bulky clothing and panicked manner had caused commanders to fear he was a suicide bomber. In fact, the report said, de Menezes was not wearing bulky clothes and his actions "were completely innocent." The report paints a picture of chaos within the police force after the July 2005 terrorist attacks and criticizes errors made in handling critical information about the hunt for the suspected bombers. It said rumors swirled around London police stations following the shooting, with several senior officers told that a Brazilian tourist had been killed. By late afternoon, a senior police officer not involved in the killing was told there had been "a massive cock-up," the report said. But it was the following afternoon before police publicly acknowledged that de Menezes was innocent and had been shot mistakenly. Commission chairman Nick Hardwick said Hayman had given no information about his motives for offering differing accounts to the press and his superiors. "Hayman didn't give us an explanation of what he did, he said he couldn't recall," Hardwick told a news conference. "It's not for us to say what his motivation might have been." The report recommended police authorities take action over Hayman's conduct. It absolved police chief Blair of blame, saying there was no evidence he had known about the mistakes when he made public statements praising his officers. But the report said the force should "consider why the commissioner remained uninformed of key information." Harriet Wistrich, a lawyer for the dead man's family, said it was "inconceivable that Ian Blair was not informed about ... the mistaken shooting of an innocent man until the next morning." She said it raised "shocking questions about how somebody in charge of the Metropolitan Police could have been kept out of the picture." In a statement, the force apologized for "errors in both internal and external communication" following the shooting. It said it could not comment on Hayman's behavior until the Metropolitan Police Authority had considered the report's findings. The inquiry is the second report into the killing, but the first to be publicly released. An earlier investigation by the police complaints board, which has not been published, ruled out prosecuting any police personnel over the case, clearing officers involved of wrongdoing or criminal negligence. Cressida Dick, the commander in charge of the operation that led to the killing at Stockwell subway station in south London, has since been promoted. The force as a whole is facing trial in October over alleged safety offenses related to its armed response policy.