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Thursday, August 02, 2007 

de Menezes: The most comprehensive account, but still no comfort.

As I mentioned when the 21st of July bombers were sentenced, the only casualty of their chappati flour and hydrogen peroxide mix was a man who had the misfortune of living close to where some of the suspects had taken up residence. While it took a length of time for the death of Jean Charles de Menezes to be almost forgotten, few reports on the bombers mentioned that the only victim of that day's events was killed the next day, and not by them, but by bungling police officers.

Reading the second IPCC report (PDF), investigating what senior officers knew and when they knew it in conjunction with the statements put out by the Metropolitan Police Authority which were subsequently discovered to be strewn with inaccuracies which effectively smeared de Menezes, you quickly understand why one police officer subsequently described the events of that day as "a complete and utter fuck-up". The main abiding image is not one of collusion, or deception, although that does certainly occur, but of confusion and general incompetence.

While we are still likely some way of from acquiring a copy of the first IPCC report into exactly what happened and what went wrong that led to the shooting of de Menezes in the first place, this second report provides us with the most comprehensive summary of what happened and when yet released. Within minutes, as you would expect, it was discovered that de Menezes was not carrying any sort of explosives, yet this in itself was never made clear in the subsequent press releases by the MPA. At 11:22 hrs, just over an hour and fifteen minutes after police officers had initially informed Scotland Yard that a man had been shot dead, D/Supt. Kavanagh, working under assistant commissioner Brown, who was responsible for the strategic response to the previous day's attempted attacks, informed D/Supt Levett, who had been appointed to investigate the shooting that a lone "Pakistani male" had been shot; that he had not been carrying a bomb; and that he was in possession of a mobile phone.

Rather than basing the identification of de Menezes on his skin colour, which ought to have told anyone with more than six braincells that he was almost certainly not of Pakistani descent, it seems that this initial identification was based on the fact that de Menezes had been carrying a Pakistani business card. This was despite the fact that de Menezes had also been carrying both a wallet containing identification which confirmed he was of Brazilian origin and a mobile phone which had a photograph of himself on it, as well as other numbers which ought to have punctured the Pakistani connection fairly quickly. In any case, none of the four bombers were Pakistani in origin; all were of African descent. The fact that de Menezes, brutally shot 7 times in the head and once (correction 3/08/07: once, not 3 times as originally stated) in the shoulder with dum-dum bullets, was left with such substantial injuries (one would imagine there was little left of his head) made it more difficult to make a quick identification, but this is little excuse for mistaking him for Pakistani.

It was not until 14:47, more than 5 hours after de Menezes had been killed that the wallet, put on a seat in the tube train (we're not informed whether it was browsed before this time) was finally removed. This delay is put down to the need for both the area to be declared free of explosives and also secured and forensically analysed. Regardless, by then the news channels had been running interviews with witnesses, who made understandable mistakes about what had happened, in some cases mistaking the officers running to intercept de Menezes as the bomber himself, which is where the jumping the barrier myth came from. The police, if they had wanted, could have quickly corrected these mistakes, but did not do so and indeed, included them in their press releases, describing de Menezes as having behaved suspiciously and not obeyed a warning to stop, one which he was never given. Even with the wallet finally removed from the scene, which made it obvious that the man who had been shot dead was most likely of Latin American origin, Kavanagh still bizarrely informed AC Brown that he appeared to be of Eastern European ethnicity.

By 16:00, AC Brown was chairing a meeting to consider the community impact of the shooting, with the knowledge that the man was likely a Brazilian, although this had not yet been confirmed.

It's only now that those accused of misconduct come into view. Assistant Commissioner Hayman was due to address the Crime Reporters Association with what had occurred that morning. According to multiple accounts of those present, he informed the CRA that the man shot dead was not one of the four being sought. Strangely, when interviewed by the IPCC, Hayman couldn't remember what he had briefed the CRA.

The real, most egregious deception occurred next. At 17:00 hours the Management Board held a sub-meeting, at which, according to notes made by Ms Murdoch, the commissioner's chief of staff, AC Hayman made the following comments about what should be presented to the media regarding the shooting:

AC HAYMAN: There is press running that the person shot is not one of the four bombers. We need to present this that he is believed to be. This is different to confirming that he is. On the balance of probabilities, it isn’t. To have this for offer would be low risk.

Keep in mind that this is the same man that had already briefed the CRA that the man shot dead was not one of the four bombers; he had started the rumour, which he was now going to try to shut down. Knowing full well that it was unlikely that de Menezes had been connected in any way, not just that he was most definitely not one of the bombers, he and those at the meeting agreed that he should continue to be presented as having been one of the four, even though "the balance of probabilities" suggested he wasn't. As for the offer being low risk, if there is now any justice, Hayman must resign for failing both to inform Ian Blair of what had occurred, and for continuing to inform the media that the man was one of the bombers when on the balance of probabilities he wasn't. Nor was either of the meetings which took place at this time informed of the recovery of de Menezes' wallet, his mobile or his quickly emerging identity.

Where then was Sir Ian Blair in all of this? The report comes to the conclusion that as he has always stated, he had no idea that an innocent man had been shot dead until the next day, the 23rd of July. Indeed, the IPCC found no direct evidence that he even knew about the emerging identify of de Menezes, the recovery of any of the items from his body, and the likelihood that he was not involved in any way with the attacks of the previous day. As Blood and Treasure notes, it seems that everyone other than Blair within the higher ranks of the MPA knew that the man was most likely not one of the suicide bombers by the end of the 22nd of July, and most certainly did by 9am the following day. The only contradictory evidence is that of Brian Paddick, who came forward after Blair gave an interview with the News of the Screws in which he claimed he didn't know. Quoting from the report:

16.14.3 On 22 August 2005, DAC Paddick went to the Commissioner’s office and told him that he had had been concerned since he had heard him (the Commissioner) state at the press conference that the deceased was directly linked to the anti-terrorist operation. He explained to the Commissioner that he had been in the Commissioner’s Staff Officer’s office when the Commissioner had walked past on his way to the press conference and that he had been told by the Commissioner’s Staff Officer and Chief of Staff that the MPS had shot a Brazilian tourist (DAC Paddick does not suggest that the Commissioner was party to or even heard this conversation). He states that the Commissioner disputed this and said he had checked with Ms Murdoch and it was about 19:00hrs when he knew the deceased was Brazilian. DAC Paddick states that the Commissioner told him that the fact that the deceased was Brazilian did not mean that he could not have been a terrorist. He states the Commissioner cited the case of an Argentinean who had been found with a hand grenade at Gatwick Airport.

Blair, in his interview with the IPCC, disputes this and claims that he only knew that the dead man was Brazilian when briefed by AC Brown on the 23rd of July between 10:15 and 10:30. In its findings, the IPCC states:

The evidence of DAC Paddick and the Commissioner in relation to their meeting on the 22 August 2005 cannot be reconciled. DAC Paddick maintains that the Commissioner told him that he knew by 19:00hrs on 22 July that the deceased was Brazilian and the Commissioner maintains that he did not. DAC Paddick is supported by the notes that he made of the meeting and the Commissioner is supported by Ms Murdoch who states that she does not recollect ever concluding with the Commissioner that he knew of Mr de Menezes’ nationality by 19:00hrs. The weight of evidence supports that the Commissioner did not know anything of the emerging identity by the time he left NSY.

When it comes down to it, it doesn't really make much difference whether he knew the man shot dead was Brazilian or not. The real point is that he was either out of the loop, not informed by his staff of their suspicions which were increasing by the hour, or not paying proper attention, as the evidence of the Management Board sub-meeting suggests, when none of those present disagreed with Hayman's gambit that the balance of probabilities suggested the man shot dead was not one of the suicide bombings and that it needed to be presented to the press that he in fact was. Despite apparently not lying, Blair needs to explain why he was held in either such apparent contempt or feared by those around him that they didn't bother to inform him of their concerns. The previous attempt at doing so, that Blair tended to take bad news badly, most certainly does not cut it.

Despite all of this, the de Menezes family still has no closure. Their son, shot dead in the most distressing circumstances imaginable by a body of the state that felt it was perfectly acceptable to subsequently smear the man they killed in cold blood when there was not even any need to have done so, has still not received justice. The original report on what went wrong remains inaccessible, its findings and conclusions ignored and ridiculed by the police on the grounds that the situation on the 22nd of July justified the decision to shoot to kill, regardless of the innumerable mistakes made. The Health and Safety prosecution is a joke doomed to fail, while those responsible have all so far got off without so much as a slap on the wrist. The exposing of Hayman's lies and deception is no comfort whatsoever.

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