Saturday, July 29, 2006

London executioners back on the job

This past Monday was the first anniversary of the street execution of Jean Charles de Menezes, a Brazilian electrician living in London, England, who was mistaken for a terrorist in a botched police operation. I blogged about this at the time. After de Menezes was killed by officers firing several shots at point-blank range, the police concocted a story that the man had been wearing a bulky jacket, had vaulted over a subway turnstile, and had ignored police who had identified themselves as such and had repeatedly ordered him to halt. This proved to be a tissue of lies.

About the same time as the de Menezes family was in London for a memorial service, the Independent Police Complaints Commission made its report to the Crown Prosecution Service. The CPS has now decided that no officer should be charged; those involved really did believe the man was a terrorist, claims a senior CPS official. Instead, Scotland Yard will be prosecuted under health and safety legislation,
sections 3 and 33 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to be precise. In a classic example of English understatement, the charge will be "failing to provide for the health, safety and welfare of de Menezes." Needless to say, this decision has attracted withering scorn in the British press, although this has all remained largely unreported in Canada.

On the political front, the aggrieved family has a few allies. Two London Assembly members, who also sit on the Metropolitan Police Authority, have been scathingly critical. One has called for a full public inquiry. Another, who is a Conservative as it happens, ripped into the evident closing of police ranks, calling it "repugnant and an affront to common decency" that no one was taking individual responsibility. Neither supports the current plans to prosecute, one calling it a waste of time and money. Meanwhile, Ken Livingston, Mayor of London and formerly known as "Red Ken," apparently neutered in his role by the London subway bombings, has given Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, a pass.

Sir Ian, obviously not a man who hesitates to press an advantage, is denouncing the decision to prosecute the police. And so is the Metropolitan Police Authority, although its reason is that this prosecution, denounced by one MPA member as a "cop-out," could prevent a full inquiry into the incident.

And the executioners themselves? Back on "full operational duty". But were they, too, part of a systemic failure?
If so, where does the buck stop? If no one is to be held accountable, one Member of Parliament grimly suggests, we are likely to see more "accidents" of this kind.

In any case, we aren't likely to learn the location of the buck for quite a while. The IPCC will not release its report until the diversionary health and safety trial is over. Same time next year?

h/t Metcalph's Blog.

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