In the Media

Met chief could face charge over Menezes

PUBLISHED June 5, 2006

The Crown Prosecution Service is considering legal charges against Britain's most senior police officer over the fatal shooting of Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes, mistakenly taken to be a terrorist.

The Observer can reveal that the Metropolitan Police commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, and two senior commanders in control of the operation that culminated in de Menezes's death are the focus of the final legal analysis of the shooting by Crown prosecutors.

If the CPS goes ahead with the dramatic move, the decision would pile further pressure on the already beleaguered head of Scotland Yard.

Legal sources close to the CPS case have revealed that, following a four-month review of a report by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, prosecutors are considering whether the command team are ultimately responsible, a decision that could give rise to a charge of gross negligence manslaughter against Blair and two other senior figures.

Blair may also face prosecution for breaching health and safety laws, with prosecutors examining whether the commissioner failed in his 'duty of care' towards the London public. The Health and Safety at Work Act makes employers liable for such a duty of care, and prosecutors are considering whether this extends to the 27-year-old, who was shot at Stockwell tube station last summer. Until now, it had been widely assumed that the CPS was only examining the possibility of charges against the police officers who were involved in the actual shooting of de Menezes.

The revelations come as Blair faces fresh questions over a raid in London on Friday in which a young Muslim man was shot. The Independent Police Complaints Commission launched an inquiry into the shooting, the first by anti-terror officers since the death of de Menezes.

Solicitors for the shot man, Mohammed Abdul Kahar, last night protested his innocence and alleged that police failed to give warning before opening fire. Lawyer Kate Roxburgh said: 'He was woken up about four in the morning by screams from downstairs, got out of bed in his pyjamas, obviously unarmed, nothing in his hands and hurrying down the stairs. As he came toward a bend in the stairway, not knowing what was going on downstairs, the police turned the bend up towards him and shot him - and that was without any warning.'

Kahar was arrested and is still under armed guard at the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel, east London. His brother, Abul Koyair, who was also arrested, is at Paddington Green police station. They can be held till Wednesday.

With Crown prosecutors' review of a report by the IPCC into the shooting of de Menezes close to completion, a final decision on possible charges is expected to be made by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Ken Macdonald QC, within the next fortnight. A legal source said: 'We are still looking at charges, beyond that which has been discussed publicly.'

Legal sources said the two senior officers named as facing possible charges were Commander Cressida Dick, who oversaw the operation that day, and Commander John McDowall, who was in charge of intelligence operations.

De Menezes, an electrician, was shot seven times after he boarded a train at Stockwell tube station in south London a day after the failed 21 July suicide attacks in the capital. He had been targeted by police after being identified, wrongly, as a suspected suicide bomber. Police have been accused of communication failures and creating confusion. Witness statements suggested that de Menezes had done nothing to arouse the suspicion of officers trailing him that day.

If charges were brought against the head of Scotland Yard, police and legal sources close to the CPS case reveal that the 'most likely' would be prosecution for alleged breaches of health and safety law, an offence that can result in an unlimited fine, rather than a manslaughter charge.

Under the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act, employers must 'so far as is reasonably practicable, [ensure] that persons not in his employment who may be affected thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to their health or safety'.

It would not be the first time that a Met Commissioner has been accused of breaching health and safety laws, although previous cases have been in relation to police officers rather than members of the public. The former head of the Met, Sir John Stevens, and his predecessor, Sir Paul Condon, were prosecuted in 2002 for alleged safety breaches when officers fell through roofs while chasing suspects. Both were acquitted of the charges.

When considering charges, Crown prosecutors must consider whether they are in the public interest, whether they pass the evidential test and also whether there is a reasonable prospect of conviction. However, the officers who shot de Menezes dead are 'highly unlikely' to face criminal charges, according to sources.

CPS lawyers are still considering whether or not to bring charges against officers who allegedly falsified a surveillance log detailing the final movements of de Menezes to obscure the fact they had wrongly identified him as a suspected suicide bomber.

The revelations will place further pressure on Blair, already under fire after a series of high-profile controversies, including the secret recording of phone calls to Attorney-General Lord Goldsmith and, separately, questioning why the media was 'obsessed' with the Soham murder case. The Metropolitan Police commissioner is also the subject of a separate inquiry that is examining allegations that he misled the public over the shooting of de Menezes.

The IPCC is currently investigating the accusations in an inquiry dubbed 'Stockwell II' and which is expected to be published alongside the CPS decision later this month.