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Menezes lawyer queries police role in 'false' reports

London Guardian | August 17 2005

The lawyer for the family of the Brazilian man shot dead by police on a London tube train today demanded to know how "false and misleading" information was established about him running from police officers and wearing a heavy coat.
In the wake of a leak from the independent report last night, which revealed eyewitnesses seeing Jean Charles de Menezes held by police in his seat before being shot in the head, attention has now turned to the initial accounts of his death - which claimed he ran from police, vaulted a ticket barrier and was shot on the floor of the carriage.

His family's solicitor, Harriet Wistrich, claimed the police must be "partly responsible" for the accounts.

Asked by the BBC about the Metropolitan police commissioner Sir Ian Blair's position over the initial version of events, she said: "There are certainly questions arising about how this false and misleading information was released in the first place.

"The police must have been partly responsible for that because it was the information that was given to the pathologist who performed the postmortem examination."

Mr de Menezes was shot dead in the carriage of a tube train at Stockwell station on July 22 in the mistaken belief that he was linked to the previous day's failed bomb attempts. A report in today's Financial Times said surveillance officers mistook him for Hussein Osman, the July 21 bomb plot suspect who Britain is trying to extradite from Italy.

Initial accounts suggested that Mr de Menezes had fled from armed officers by vaulting over barriers before stumbling on to an underground train, where the officers opened fire. One witness in the carriage, Mark Whitby, 47, said shortly after the shooting that he saw a man who looked Pakistani "hotly pursued by what I knew to be three plain-clothes police officers" and wearing "a coat like you would wear in winter, a sort of padded jacket".

He said the man "looked like a cornered rabbit, like a cornered fox" and "absolutely petrified" when he got on the train. Mr Whitby today refused to comment on the latest disclosures.

According to documents obtained by ITV News from the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), the Brazilian was filmed on CCTV cameras entering the station at a normal walking pace and even picking up a free copy of the Metro newspaper.

Ms Wistrich told BBC Breakfast: "It raises very, very serious questions about the shoot-to-kill policy and shows immediate questions need to be asked about whether this policy should be in operation and how dangerously wrong it can go."

She said police had no reason to suspect he was a suicide bomber, beyond the fact that he came out of a house under surveillance.

"He was not carrying a rucksack. He simply had a denim jacket. Was it necessary to shoot him dead as opposed to trying to confront him at an earlier stage. There was no indication he was about to blow himself up at all."

Ms Wistrich said it had always been clear to Mr de Menezes' family that his death was the result of a dreadful mistake.

"The family have always known that this was absolutely an outrageous mistake, at the very least, and that their son was entirely innocent."

She said the family had been "incredulous" at initial claims that CCTV cameras in the station were not working.

"They are very keen to get the full truth and justice. It is unfortunate in some ways that it has all come out in this way, without the opportunity for them to receive the news first.

"But clearly we now know that Jean Charles was doing absolutely nothing to arouse any suspicion, he was just unfortunate to be living in a block of flats that was under surveillance and to look slightly brown-skinned."

Ms Wistrich said information about Mr de Menezes having an expired visa was "irrelevant".

One former flying squad commander, John O'Connor, said last night's leaks would force Sir Ian to contemplate resigning.

He told BBC Breakfast News: "There will be pressure on the Met Commissioner to consider his position.

"Had the normal procedures taken place in which a warning is given and officers wear specially marked clothing then this young man may not have been killed."

Politically, reaction was muted, with the Conservative leader, Michael Howard, refusing to comment until the full IPCC report was published.

The deputy prime minister, John Prescott, who is standing in for Tony Blair, also refused to comment. "This is under review by an independent inquiry and I think we must wait for the result of that," he said.

The Liberal Democrats' president, Simon Hughes, said there would always have to be a shoot-to-kill option. "However, what I'm sure the report will do is make sure the police review and revise the processes that lead to that."

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