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British authorities were right not to prosecute police officers over the 2005 killing of a Brazilian man shot dead on the London Underground after being mistaken for a suicide bomber, a European court ruled on Wednesday.
The judgement by the European Court of Human Rights was a blow to relatives of Jean Charles de Menezes, who have sought for years to have police charged with his killing more than a decade ago.
“We find it unbelievable that our innocent cousin could be shot seven times in the head by the Metropolitan Police when he had done nothing wrong, and yet the police have not had to account for their actions,” Patricia Armani Da Silva, de Menezes’s cousin, said in a statement.
“We feel that decisions about guilt and innocence should be made by juries, not by faceless bureaucrats, and we are deeply saddened that we have been denied that opportunity yet again.”
On July 22, 2005, an officer shot the 27-year-old Brazilian electrician as police hunted attackers behind failed bombing attempts on the subway a day before.
Two weeks earlier, on July 7, four suicide bombers killed 52 commuters on London’s transit system.
Police wrongly thought de Menezes was Hussein Osman, one of the attackers on the run, who lived in the same apartment block as the Brazilian.
Eleven years on, and still no individual has been held accountable for the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes. And now, nobody ever will.
— david allen green (@davidallengreen) March 30, 2016
The Brazilian was on his way to work when he was shot seven times at close range by police who followed him on to a carriage. The two officers who killed him testified at an inquest they believed de Menezes was one of the failed bombers.
Prosecutors decided not to charge any police officers, although the Metropolitan Police force was convicted in 2007 of health and safety violations and fined for endangering the public’s safety during the shooting.
Then, it was fined £175,000 ($270,130), after the court heard it had made “shocking and catastrophic” blunders.
— Natasa Mavronicola (@NMavronicola) March 30, 2016
The family argued that prosecutors were wrong not to charge any individuals, and that the health and safety offence was an inadequate punishment.
Wednesday’s ruling came more than eight years after de Menezes’ cousin, Patricia Armani Da Silva, appealed to the Strasbourg, France-based European court.
Lawyers for the family argued that authorities failed in their obligations under European human rights rules to conduct an “effective investigation” capable of identifying and, if appropriate, punishing those responsible for the shooting.
The court’s grand chamber, which deals with the most serious cases, said the decision not to prosecute individual officers was not due to failings in the investigation “or the state’s tolerance of or collusion in unlawful acts”.
In a 13-4 ruling, the judges said authorities had held a thorough inquiry into the shooting and “concluded that there was insufficient evidence against any individual officer to prosecute”.
“There were numerous and serious criticisms of the operation that led to his death and of the shooting itself,” said Adam Straw, a human rights barrister with Doughty Street Chambers. “Despite this, no police officer has been prosecuted.
“This is consistent with a wider context which suggests that the current legal system is not capable of holding state agents to account for fatal offences.”
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