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Friday, December 09, 2005 

Charges possible over De Menezes; Air Marshals knew man was mentally ill.

One day, two reports on men wrongfully shot:

The chair of the commission investigating the fatal shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes today said it was "likely" its findings would be passed to the Crown Prosecution Service.

Mr De Menezes, a Brazilian national, was shot seven times in the head by armed police officers at Stockwell underground station, in south London, who thought he was a suicide bomber.

The handing over of the report from the Independent Police Complaints Commission could lead to criminal charges being brought against the officers.

Asked whether the report would be handed over, Nick Hardwick, the IPCC chair, said: "I think that is likely."

Charges are brought against officers when the IPCC submits a report to the CPS and the prosecution service decides there is a case to pursue.

Mr Hardwick said the IPCC had to decide whether its findings indicated criminal offences might have taken place. The CPS would then have to decide whether to bring charges against any of the Scotland Yard officers involved.

Mr Hardwick quashed rumours that some of the CCTV tapes from the platform where the shooting happened were missing. However, he refused to say whether one or more of the cameras had not been working properly on the day of the shooting.

The senior investigator, John Cummins, admitted to "problems with the equipment" but did not elaborate.

It is not known which offences the IPCC would ask the CPS to consider if the report were handed over.

The IPCC chair also revealed that the investigators had not interviewed Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan police commissioner. He refused to confirm whether a statement had been taken from him.

David Davis, the shadow home secretary, said: "It is inexplicable that Sir Ian Blair has not been interviewed. The public expect a full and thorough investigation in a case like this, and it would be no reflection on Sir Ian to be interviewed.

"There is a fine balance to be struck between protecting the safety of the public, operational priorities of the police and natural justice. The public expect no stone to be left unturned in this inquiry.

"The last thing anyone wants is to encourage conspiracy theories about a cover-up."

Mr Hardwick admitted the delay in the IPCC taking over the investigation had been damaging to the public's perception of the inquiry. It did not begin its investigation until Wednesday July 27 - five days after Mr De Menezes was shot dead. Sir Ian Blair had written to the Home Office to clarify the role of the IPCC when the matter related to an ongoing anti-terrorism investigation.

Mr Hardwick refused to comment on whether Sir Ian had tried to delay the IPCC's involvement.

In other words, it seems like the officers on the ground are likely to be those charged, and not the higher-ups who authorised the use of the shoot-to-kill policy. It should also be interesting to see if Cressida Dick is charged, as she is allegedly the officer who told the officers to use lethal force.

The IPCC itself still seems to be having problems with admitting to things that have gone wrong: it is still denying that the tapes from the Stockwell tube station were missing, or found to be blank, while those in charge of the CCTV system said everything had been working fine. Also bewildering is the admittance that Sir Ian Blair has not been interviewed, as well as refusing to say if they had a statement from him. Ian Blair said on the day that all signs pointed to the man being involved in terrorist or suspicious activity, while it was already apparent if not confirmed to those at Stockwell that something had gone terribly wrong. He told the News of the Screws that he did not know that an innocent man had been shot until the next day; either he is lying or those below him felt it wasn't necessary to inform the head of the Met that his officers had executed an innocent man. He also did nothing to stop or correct the misinformation fed to the media about de Menezes wearing a bulky jacket when he was wearing a light denim one, about him having what looked like a weapon belt when he had nothing of the sort, and of him running and jumping the entrance to the tube station, when that was in fact those pursuing him.

It seems unlikely that the IPCC report will really get to the bottom of the matter. Was de Menezes targetted because he came from somewhere under suspicion, or because it was felt that he would be a nice example to the media of the police taking action against "terrorists"? Were the officers who attempted to identify him merely incompetent, or was something more sinister afoot? If he was so dangerous, why was he allowed to board and leave the bus which took him to Stockwell, let alone even reach the station? Why was he not at any time given a warning, or told to stop? Why, when he was clearly be restrained by the police on the train itself was he then shot 8 times? Was this all bad communication, or some kind of revenge on someone they thought they could get away with killing? Those are the real questions which need to be answered, and it seems unlikely the IPCC report will answer all of them. Once the leaking to ITV had originally taken place, an independent inquiry should have taken place. It may now be too late to find out what really happened.

In the other case of shooting to kill, this time in America, it now turns out that the air marshals had known that the man was mentally ill:

The wife of a passenger shot dead after apparently claiming he was carrying a bomb on a plane desperately tried to tell air marshals her husband was mentally ill and had not taken his medication before they opened fire, killing him.

Passengers on board the American Airlines jetliner at Miami airport described seeing Rigoberto Alpizar, 44, run from his seat and down the aisle with his screaming wife and an undercover air marshal wearing a Hawaiian shirt in close pursuit.

"She was chasing after him," Alan Tirpak, another passenger on board, told CNN. "She was just saying her husband was sick, her husband was sick." After following him part of the way down the aisle the woman returned to her seat saying she needed to get his bags. "She just kept saying the same thing over and over, and that's when we heard the shots."

James Bauer, the agent in charge of the Federal Air Marshal Service field office in Miami, said that before Mr Alpizar ran off the plane he had "uttered threatening words that included a sentence to the effect that he had a bomb".

But several passengers, including Mike Beshears, said they did not hear Mr Alpizar say anything. "He just was in a hurry and exited the plane," he said.

Ellen Sutliff, who was sitting near Mr Alpizar, told CNN he had appeared agitated even before he boarded the plane, and that his wife, Anne, kept trying to reassure him: "We just have to get through customs ... We're going to be home soon, and everything will be all right."

Asked about the apparent discrepancy in the accounts between passengers and the air marshals, an official at the Department of Homeland Security told the Guardian that every passenger on board the plane would be interviewed. "We have to wait for the investigation, but there may be situations where what they heard would depend on where they were sitting. But the air marshals have confirmed to us that they overheard him say he had a bomb in his bag," he said.

While this case doesn't have the sinister overtones that the de Menezes case has, it still has the main background of trigger happy attendants who have been trained to shoot before asking questions. And again, the result has been that an innocent vulnerable man has lost his life as result of the panic and hysteria surrounding "terrorism".

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