STRASBOURG (Reuters) - The death of a 27-year-old Brazilian shot by police in the wake of the 2005 London bombings could have been prevented, a lawyer for the United Kingdom told Europe’s top human rights court on Wednesday, adding the incident did not however amount to murder.
The European Court of Human Rights was opening hearings into Britain’s handling of the case nearly ten years after police shot Jean Charles de Menezes seven times in the head as he boarded an underground train in south London.
They mistook him for one of four men who unsuccessfully tried to bomb London’s transport system the day before, a thwarted attack two weeks after four young British Muslims had killed 52 people and themselves in bombings on three underground trains and a bus in the most deadly peacetime attack in Britain.
The police have maintained they were under extraordinary pressure at the time, with four would-be bombers who had tried to commit mass murder on the run, and that officers who shot de Menezes had feared for their own lives and for those of other passengers on the train.
Queen’s Counsel Clare Montgomery reaffirmed the view that the killing did not amount to murder, while acknowledging serious operational failures.
“An innocent man was shot dead by the police on his way to work in London. His death was the result of a series of serious operational failures by the Metropolitan police. There is no doubt that his death could and should have been prevented,” Montgomery told the court.
In 2007, the Metropolitan Police as an organization was found guilty of breaching health and safety laws and fined 175,000 pounds ($270,130).
But despite repeated demands from the family that the officers involved or their superiors should be charged, prosecutors have said there was not enough evidence to take action against any individuals.
“For 10 years our family has been campaigning for justice for Jean because we believe that police officers should have been held to account for his killing,” Patricia Armani Da Silva, de Menezes’s cousin, said in a statement.
“Jean’s death is a pain that never goes away for us.”
Da Silva’s lawyer, Hugh Southey, told the European court de Menezes’s “right to life” had been violated, adding that people must be certain that police officers “that abuse their powers” are held accountable.
A verdict is due in several months.
Additional reporting by Michael Holden; Writing by Ingrid Melander; editing by Mark John