ATTACKS IN LONDON: 'Shoot-to-Kill' Victim Was Here Legally, Says Straw
Nigel Morris, Jonathan Brown and Helen Lakey, The Independent (London, England)
The Brazilian man killed by police was shot eight times by undercover officers who thought that he was a suicide bomber.
The death of Jean Charles de Menezes, an electrician with no connection to the bombing campaign in London, has deeply embarrassed the Metropolitan Police and strained diplomatic relations between Britain and Brazil.
Ministers faced anger from Brazil over reported claims by government sources that Mr de Menezes may have been living illegally in Britain because his student visa had expired.
The suggestion was strongly disputed by the man's family. Mr de Menezes, 27, died at Stockwell Tube station on Friday, the day after the failed suicide bombings on the capital's transport network.
But Jack Straw said later he believed Mr de Menezes was in Britain legally. 'I don't have any precise information about his immigration status here,' Mr Straw said. 'My understanding is that he was here lawfully.'
Police, who had the block of flats where he lived under surveillance, had trailed him from his home and, when he entered the station, plain- clothes officers ordered him to stop. They had, though, allowed him " a suspected suicide bomber " to catch a bus to reach Stockwell.
Police say Mr de Menezes fled when they challenged him, leaping over ticket barriers and jumping on to a train. Apparently fearing his jacket concealed a bomb, officers shot him dead.
His reason for running from the police is a mystery. His friends say several weeks ago he was stopped as part of a routine search at Brixton, and did not try to flee.
Witnesses reported hearing about five shots but an inquest, which opened at Southwark coroner's court yesterday, was told he was shot seven times in the head and once in the shoulder.
Details of his death emerged as the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) began its investigation. The three officers involved have been moved to non-firearm duties. The investigation is expected to take several months, with full powers, including referral to the Crown Prosecution Service, open to the IPCC.
Its chairman, Nick Hardwick, said: 'We enter this with open minds, as we search for the truth, and we have accepted the full co- operation of the Metropolitan Police service, which they have pledged. We don't start from the assumption that we are investigating a crime here. We are looking for the truth.'
The claims that Mr de Menezes was in Britain on an out-of-date student visa are understood to have originated from government sources. His family insisted he was legitimately in Britain on a five-year visa; one theory is that, like many Brazilians, he may have been travelling on a Portuguese passport.
The Home Office had refused to comment on his case, but Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said: 'We are disgusted at suggestions that a man's immigration status has any relevance at all to the value of his life.'
Yesterday, Tony Blair said he was desperately sorry for the death of Mr de Menezes, but stressed the police were working in very difficult circumstances.
'At the same time therefore, in expressing our sorrow and deep sympathy for the death, it is important that we allow the police, and support them in doing the job they have to do in order to protect people in this country,' he said.
Mr Straw, in a joint press conference with his Brazilian counterpart, Celso Amorim, made an unreserved apology on behalf of Britain last night. He said: 'My own sense of loss was made more poignant because I happen to live in this part of London, where I have lived for over 25 years. …