London Police Stalled Probe Into Shooting

By Mary Jordan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, August 19, 2005; A13

LONDON, Aug. 18 -- The London metropolitan police resisted and delayed an independent investigation into why their officers shot an innocent man seven times in the head on a subway car last month, the official police oversight commission announced Thursday, adding to growing criticism of Scotland Yard.

Officials from the Independent Police Complaints Commission, established in 2004 to restore public confidence after a series of high-profile deaths of minority suspects in police custody, said they hoped to make up "lost ground" and soon tell the public why Jean Charles de Menezes, 27, an electrician from Brazil, was killed July 22.

Immediately after the shooting, Ian Blair, the city's police commissioner, said Menezes "was directly linked to the ongoing and expanding anti-terrorist operation." But the following day, Blair said that was not the case. He expressed his "deepest regrets" and accepted "full responsibility" for the death.

In explaining why Menezes had been shot, police initially issued a statement saying that "his clothing and his behavior at the station added to suspicions" they had about him being a potential suicide bomber. He was shot the day after the failed attacks on the London transit system and two weeks after the July 7 bombings on the system that killed 56 people, including the four presumed bombers, and wounded 700 others.

That police statement reinforced widely published reports that eyewitnesses said Menezes had jumped over the turnstile at the Stockwell subway station and was wearing a padded jacket despite warm weather. But Blair said Thursday that those reports had never been confirmed by the police.

"We have been as responsible as we could be in a very fast-moving scenario," the commissioner said, urging people to see Menezes' "tragic" death in the context of "the largest criminal inquiry in English history."

But according to new police documents, witness statements and photographs aired this week on ITV News, Menezes, contrary to the impression given by police, walked slowly into the train station and was wearing a lightweight denim jacket.

The new documents leaked to the television station indicated he was already being restrained by one officer when he was shot dead by another. The BBC reported Thursday night that a staff member of the police oversight commission had been suspended after an investigation into the source of the leaked documents.

Blair told BBC radio Thursday that there was no coverup involved and that he had no intention of resigning, as some have suggested. His office issued a statement saying that immediately after the shooting, Blair intended that "the terrorist investigation take precedence" over any investigation into the shooting.

On the morning of Menezes' death, several police surveillance teams were watching the apartment block where he lived because one of the suspected bombers in the failed July 21 attacks, Hamdi Issac, was believed to be living there. Issac has since been arrested in Rome.

A British officer manning a surveillance camera failed to get footage of Menezes because the officer had gone to the restroom, according to the new police documents. Had there been a clear photo of Menezes, police might have been able to see that he did not look like Issac, who was born in Ethiopia.

Gareth Peirce, one of the lawyers for the dead man's family, called the investigation into the shooting a "chaotic mess." At a news conference, she said the family had asked the commission to find out "how much is incompetence, negligence or gross negligence and how much of it is something sinister." By British law, if a person dies in police custody, the investigation is to be turned over to the watchdog group. Analysts said that should occur within 24 hours. But Menezes' lawyers said several days were lost as Scotland Yard resisted efforts by the oversight commission, saying "unprecedented" circumstances were involved in the bombings investigation.

John Wadham, deputy chairman of the commission, told reporters Thursday that the police "initially resisted us taking on the investigation, but we overcame that. It was an important victory for our independence. This dispute has caused delay in us taking over the investigation, but we have worked hard to recover the lost ground."