Officers 'sure' De Menezes was terrorist
The two police marksmen who shot dead Jean Charles de Menezes were convinced that the unarmed Brazilian was a suicide bomber and an "instant killing" was the only way to deal with him, his inquest was told yesterday.
The opening day of the hearing into the death of the 27-year-old electrician was given a minute-by-minute account of the police operation that reached the mistaken conclusion that he was one of four bombers who had tried to bomb the capital the day before.
The coroner, Sir Michael Wright, described how two undercover surveillance teams tracking Mr de Menezes failed to positively identify him as Hussain Osman, one of the missing suicide attackers, who lived in the same block of flats as the Brazilian.
Mr de Menezes left his home at 21 Scotia Road in Tulse Hill, south London, at 9.33am on 22 July 2005 and was tailed by eight covert SO12 Special Branch officers as he travelled on a bus to work. The team had been sent to Scotia Road after a gym card with the address was found in Osman's unexploded rucksack device.
Crucially, a back-up unit of firearms specialists sent to detain anyone leaving the flats failed to arrive. Mr de Menezes was shot dead at 10.06am after boarding a stationary northbound Northern line train.
Summarising the evidence that the jury of five women and four men will hear over the next three months, Sir Michael said despite the apparent absence of a confirmed identification from officers on the ground, senior officers at New Scotland Yard, led by Commander Cressida Dick, believed Mr de Menezes was Osman and ordered that a "stop" be performed on him by a pursuing team of 12 marksmen.
The court heard that two CO19 specialist firearms officers, known by codenames C2 and C12, entered the carriage of the Tube train and saw that Mr de Menezes had been grabbed around the arms by "Ivor", a surveillance officer, and forced to sit. C2 and C12 will give evidence, the first time they have publicly accounted for their actions.
Sir Michael said: "C2 and C12 saw Ivor seize Mr de Menezes and push him down in the seat. Both officers said that they were convinced that Mr de Menezes was a suicide bomber, that he was about to detonate a bomb and unless he was prevented from doing so everybody present was going to die.
"Each officer says he was convinced that an instant killing was the only option open to him. They reached over Ivor and fired several times at point blank range at Mr de Menezes' head."
Nine bullets were fired at the Brazilian from a distance of 1cm and 8cm with one cartridge misfiring and another missing its target. The coroner added: "Mr de Menezes was killed instantly. He can hardly have had any opportunity to appreciate what was happening."
The jury were told that the death of the Brazilian, whose relatives were in court, was a "tragic affair".
Mr de Menezes, who came to Britain from Brazil in 2002 on a student visa, was in the United Kingdom legally. A post-mortem examination found traces of cocaine in his body, suggesting he had taken it six to 12 hours before his death. There was no evidence it would have affected his behaviour on 22 July.
Sir Michael said the proceedings, which could decide whether the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair sees out his tenure until 2010, were not a criminal prosecution.
The coroner said a series of logs or reports from the SO12 officers ranged from an assessment that Mr de Menezes was a "good possible likeness" to the opinion of another officer who did not think he was identical to Osman. An officer logging for Ms Dick, now a deputy assistant commissioner, wrote: "It is him. The man is off the bus. They think it is him and [he] is very, very jumpy."
Sir Michael said: "It does appear that by the time Mr de Menezes had entered Stockwell station, no member of the surveillance team had positively identified him. But at New Scotland Yard there appears to have been a perception that Mr de Menezes had been positively identified as Osman."