The family of Jean Charles de Menezes will at last have the chance to get answers to their questions about the events leading to his death, in the course of the coroner’s inquest which opened in London on Monday.
On 22 July 2005, the day after a series of attempted bomb attacks on public transport in London, plain clothes officers of the Metropolitan Police shot dead Jean Charles de Menezes. The unarmed young Brazilian had been working as an electrician in the UK for the previous three years.
He was shot onboard a London underground train at Stockwell station in south London while on his way to work. Police officers had mistakenly identified Jean Charles de Menezes as one of the main suspects in their investigation into the attempted bomb attacks of the previous day.
In November 2007, a jury found the Office of the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police guilty of an offence under health and safety legislation for failing adequately to protect members of the public, including Jean Charles de Menezes, in the way they conducted the investigation into the attempted attacks on 21 July 2005. No individual police officer has to date been charged with any criminal offence arising from the death of Jean Charles de Menezes.
The 11 members of the public who make up the inquest jury will now listen to evidence from police officers involved in the operation that led to the shooting and from other witnesses. The inquest proceedings will take place in public, although many of the police witnesses will be allowed to give their evidence anonymously from behind a screen, and transcripts of each day’s proceedings will be published on the coroner’s website: http://www.stockwellinquest.org.uk.
The family of Jean Charles de Menezes, as a party to the inquest proceedings, will have the opportunity, through their lawyers, to put their own questions to witnesses. This will be the first opportunity for them to do so; previous investigations and legal proceedings, including the criminal prosecution, had not allowed for this crucial involvement of the next of kin of Jean Charles de Menezes.
At the end of the inquest – which is expected to take around three months – the jury will be asked to deliver a verdict on the cause of the death of Jean Charles de Menezes, and the facts of “how, when and where” the death occurred. The inquest jury cannot determine whether any individual is liable, in criminal or civil law, for the death.
Amnesty International believes that the coroner’s inquest provides a crucial element of public scrutiny of the events leading to the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes. It may be able to bring to light information about all of the circumstances of the death that did not emerge either during the criminal prosecution nor through the investigation into the death conducted by the Independent Police Complaints Commission.
Some of those who are expected to give evidence at the inquest – including the officers who fired the fatal shots, and passengers who were in the train carriage at the time of the shooting – were not called as witnesses during the criminal prosecution.
Amnesty International has long emphasized the need for full and public scrutiny of the actions of all state agents and agencies involved in this incident, so as to ascertain whether the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes was lawful – specifically, whether the force used was no more than absolutely necessary and a proportionate response in the circumstances. The coroner’s inquest is one way of ensuring such scrutiny, and its opening, although long delayed, is a welcome step towards establishing the truth.