A ruling on whether British police officers should have been charged for the fatal shooting of Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes at a London tube station in 2005 is to be delivered by the European court of human rights on Wednesday.
De Menezes was shot dead at Stockwell underground station on 22 July 2005, when he was mistakenly identified as a suicide bomber just two weeks after the 7 July London bombings in which 52 people died, and the day after the attempted attacks on 21 July, during a turbulent summer in the British capital.
The ruling is the culmination of a seven-year legal battle in a case first lodged with the Strasbourg court in 2008 by de Menezes’s cousin, Patricia Armani Da Silva, who was living with him in London at the time of his death.
Who was Jean Charles de Menezes?
She is pressing the grand chamber of the court to challenge the decision by the Crown Prosecution Service that no individual police officers should be prosecuted in the case.
De Menezes was shot at close range by two special firearms officers, who were hunting failed suicide bombers who it was feared would strike again after four unexploded bombs had been found on three tube trains and a bus the day before.
The Brazilian electrician lived at the same address in Tulse Hill, south London, as two of the terror suspects and was followed by surveillance officers to Stockwell station when he left for work one morning. The armed officers followed him onto a train, pinned him down and shot him several times in the head.
An Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) report in 2006 said De Menezes had been killed because of avoidable mistakes and identified a number of possible criminal offences that might have been committed by the officers involved, including murder and gross negligence.
But the CPS decided not to press criminal charges against any individual, saying there was no realistic prospect of conviction. They said it would be very difficult to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the officers had not genuinely believed that they were facing a lethal threat.
A successful prosecution however was brought against the Metropolitan police authority under health and safety legislation. The authority was fined £175,000 and, while the jury accepted there had been a number of failings in the operation, they absolved the officer in charge of any “personal culpability” for the events.
In December 2008 an inquest jury also returned an open verdict after rejecting the official account of the events and being advised by the coroner that it was not open to them to return a verdict of unlawful killing.
Harriet Wistrich, the Birnberg Peirce solicitor who represents the electrician’s family in the case, has said that the CPS decision was based on an assessment that there was less than a 50% chance of conviction. She has argued that assessment is not compatible with the European convention on human rights’ protection to the right to live.
The family’s case rests on their belief that the lethal use of force was excessive and unreasonable because there was no evidence that De Menezes posed any threat.