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European Court Rules No One Should Be Prosecuted for Killing of Jean Charles Menezes

Serious operational blunders caused British police to mistake the Brazilian electrician for a failed suicide bomber and shoot him seven times as he boarded an underground train in 2005.

by VICE News
Mar 30 2016, 3:00pm

Patricia da Silva Armani, cousin of Jean Charles de Menezes, lights a candle in his memory by the mural commemorating him at Stockwell Underground Station in London. Photo by Andy Rain/EPA

The British police officers who shot dead a Brazilian electrician in 2005 after mistaking him for a suicide bomber should not be prosecuted, Europe's top human rights court ruled on Wednesday.

The decision marks the end of a decade-long battle by the family of Jean Charles de Menezes to hold the police officers involved accountable for his death.

A series of communication errors and led officers from London's Metropolitan Police to believe 27-year-old Menezes was Hussain Osman, a man involved in a failed attempt to bomb the city's transport infrastructure the previous day, and shoot him seven times in the head as he boarded an underground train in south London.

Osman, along with three other Islamist militants, had made their bombing attempt just two weeks after three attackers had killed 52 people and themselves in bombings on three underground trains and a bus — the most deadly peacetime attack in Britain.

The UK's Crown Prosecution Service decided not to pursue a case against the officers who killed Menezes in 2006, because there was not enough evidence for a realistic chance of conviction — one of the tests it applies to criminal cases in the country.

Related: 10 Years Ago Today, UK Police Killed an Innocent Man After Mistaking Him For a Terrorist

That decision prompted the family of Menezes to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights.

They claimed that the UK breached several articles of the European Convention on Human Rights — Article 2, the right to life, Article 3, prohibition of inhuman punishment, and Article 13, right to an effective remedy — by not prosecuting those responsible for Menezes' death.

But the court ruled on Wednesday that the decision not to prosecute any individual officer was "not due to any failings in the investigation or the state's tolerance of or collusion in unlawful acts.

"Rather, it was due to the fact that, following a thorough investigation, a prosecutor had considered all the facts of the case and concluded that there was insufficient evidence against any individual officer to prosecute."

In 2007, the Metropolitan Police as an organization was found guilty of breaching health and safety laws and fined 175,000 pounds ($270,130), after the court heard it had made "shocking and catastrophic" blunders.

A jury at an inquest in 2008 found a host of errors by police, such as a failure to obtain and provide a better photograph of failed bomber Osman, shortcomings in the communications system between various teams, and the failure to stop Menezes before he got on the subway all contributed to his death.

It also ruled that armed police who shot him had not shouted warnings beforehand as they themselves had claimed.

Related: Video Shows Brazil Cop Shooting Teens at Close Range After Motorcycle Chase

Lawyers for the British government told the European Court of Human Rights last June that the death could have been prevented and was the result of serious operational failures by police, but said the killing did not amount to murder.

The family argued that prosecutors were wrong not to charge any individuals, and that the health and safety offense was an inadequate punishment.

"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 in June 2015. "Jean's death is a pain that never goes away for us."

The British police watchdog, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, also decided in 2007 that no disciplinary action should be taken against any of the officers involved — despite acknowledging that Menezes was entirely innocent and could not have done anything differently that would have allowed him to escape being shot.

The police have always maintained that 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.

Follow VICE News on Twitter: @vicenews

Reuters contributed to this report.

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