London’s police force on Thursday was found guilty of putting the public at risk during a flawed counterterrorism operation in 2005 that led to the killing of an innocent Brazilian electrician on a subway train.
The Metropolitan Police force was fined $364,000 and $800,000 in legal costs for breaching health and safety laws as police officers pursued and killed the man, Jean Charles de Menezes, 27, who they thought was a suspect in a failed suicide bombing attempt.
It is the first time that health and safety legislation has been applied in connection with a counterterrorist police operation.
The verdict angered some human rights groups and opposition politicians and renewed calls for the resignation of Sir Ian Blair, the commissioner of London’s police force.
On July 22, 2005, in an operation prosecutors described as chaotic, the police officers wrongly identified de Menezes as one of four men who had tried to detonate bombs on London’s transport system the day before. Two weeks before that attempt, four bombers killed themselves and 52 others on the transit system.
The officers followed de Menezes into a subway train in Stockwell, in south London, and shot him seven times in the head in front of horrified passengers.
The police made a “shocking and catastrophic error” and endangered the public, prosecutors told the jury on Thursday at the Old Bailey, or Central Criminal Court, first by allowing someone they suspected to be a suicide bomber to board the subway train and then by shooting him.
“It was the result of fundamental failures to carry out a planned operation in a safe and reasonable way,” said the prosecutor for the trial, Clare Montgomery.
Ronald Thwaites, a lawyer for the police force, contended that a health and safety prosecution was a sign that there was not enough evidence to charge any individuals with murder or manslaughter. He said de Menezes was shot because of his own behavior, taking actions police officers are trained to identify as those of a possible suicide bomber about to detonate.
The police acknowledged that the operation had gone far wrong but denied breaking any laws.
De Menezes’ family pressed for the resignations of officers in charge of the operation, but the jury cleared individual officers and instead ruled Thursday that the organization as a whole was responsible.
Blair, who had come under pressure to resign over the shooting, said on Thursday that he would stay on because the case had not uncovered any evidence of “systemic failure.”
Blair called de Menezes’ death a tragedy and said the police had apologized many times to his family and friends. He added that “the difficulties shown in this trial were those of an organization struggling, on a single day, to get to grips with a simply extraordinary situation.” He said he would consider whether the conviction meant that any operating practices should be altered.