Tube shooting 'is health and safety case' but police may face private action

Key quote

"We have apologised publicly and in private to them, and we would again like to take this opportunity to say sorry for this tragedy." - SCOTLAND YARD

Story in full THE police officers involved in the shooting of the innocent Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes could face a private prosecution after the Crown Prosecution Service said it would not be bringing charges against any officer.

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A report by the CPS yesterday cleared individual officers of wrongdoing over last year's shooting at Stockwell Tube station in London, but recommended the Metropolitan Police be sued under health and safety regulations.

Mr de Menezes' family expressed outrage at the findings and said they would fight for "as long as it takes" to bring the police to justice.

Members of the Metropolitan Police Authority were equally dismayed by the decision and said it would create "uncertainty" as it tried to protect the public from terrorism.

Lord Toby Harris, the chairman of Westminster's all-party parliamentary group on policing, described it as a "ridiculous cop-out", while Ken Livingstone, the mayor of London, said it made "absolutely no sense".

The de Menezes family were last night considering whether to apply for a judicial review of the CPS verdict, or even launch a private prosecution. As they tried to come to terms with the fact no-one will go to jail over the shooting, it emerged that the two police officers who fired the fatal shots could be back on duty before the end of the week.

Both were suspended from operational duties, and Paul Stephenson, the Met's deputy commissioner, said their fate could be decided within days.

Mr de Menezes, 27, was shot on the morning of 22 July last year, the day after attempted bombings on London's transport network.

In its long-awaited announcement, the CPS said there was "insufficient evidence" to prosecute any of the individual officers involved for murder or manslaughter. The officers who shot him thought he was a suicide bomber and feared he would "blow up the train, killing many people", said Stephen O'Doherty, a senior CPS lawyer.

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He concluded that "operational errors" in planning and communication suggested there had been a breach of the health and safety duties owed to non-employees. As a result, the CPS is to prosecute the "office" of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, under Sections 3 and 33 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

It is not a personal prosecution against Sir Ian, but leaves his force facing a lengthy crown court trial and an unlimited fine, if convicted.

The CPS announcement provoked a furious response from Mr de Menezes's family. Patricia da Silva Armani, a cousin, said she was "sickened", and added: "I am very disappointed. This is shameful. By using these laws to cover up their mistakes, they are treating my cousin like a dead animal."

Alex Pereira, another cousin, said Mr de Menezes' parents were shocked and deeply hurt at what he called a "completely unbelievable" finding. "It does not make sense, this decision that they made," he said. "I don't know how someone works very hard and spends a lot of money comes to a decision like this."

The family's lawyer, Harriet Wistrich, said they would be examining in more detail the CPS's findings and could pursue a civil case against the police officers involved. She went on: "The family need to hold somebody accountable for this death. It is not a health and safety issue: it wasn't food poisoning; it didn't happen on a building site."

Asad Rehman, of the Justice For Jean campaign, said the family had been treated with a "lack of respect" by the British authorities.

Scotland Yard said it was "pleased" individual officers had not been charged. Expressing "very deep regret" for the shooting, the force said of the de Menezes family: "We have apologised publicly and in private to them, and we would again like to take this opportunity to say sorry for this tragedy."

The Met said it supported the decision not to charge any officer and offered its support to Commander Cressida Dick, the senior officer in charge of the operation that led to the death.

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But its statement went on: "We are concerned and clearly disappointed at today's decision to prosecute the Metropolitan Police Service for breaches of health and safety."

It also insisted its controversial Operation Kratos policy for dealing with suicide bombers would remain in place.

The Metropolitan Police Federation, which represented many of the officers involved in the investigation, said they and their families had been under "tremendous pressure".

"We are delighted that that pressure has now been lifted," it said.