Health and Safety 5 – the case for the defence
In his opening defence statement Ronald Thwaites QC said death was a serious mistake, but not a crime.
He described the prosecution case as relying on the benefit of hindsight.
The reality, he said, was that police chasing the 21 July suicide bombers were facing unprecedented challenges.
We’ve never experienced terrorism before, nor has anyone else. There was no way we could predict a suspect might leave a building! We never expected we’d be uncertain about someone’s identity. etc.
The prosecution completely failed to understand these challenges, Mr Thwaites said.
“The prosecution are attempting to dictate to the police how they should be doing their job and they are doing so from a position of near ignorance.
“It would have the effect of putting handcuffs on the police and seriously impede their effectiveness in combating serious crime”.
There could be an element of truth in that. But of course some of the allegations, if acted upon, might improve effectiveness: e.g. by making sure non-essential staff weren’t in the operations room. In addition, do we have the right balance between combating serious crime, and protecting the public from the effects of combating serious crime?
Mr Thwaites said in the days after the 7 July suicide bombings police were facing an unprecedented threat to London.
Scotland Yard’s terrorism hotline had received 3,900 tip-offs in a “rapidly developing” picture, he added.
This meant that when commanders had linked the bombers to the block of flats, the very best they could have done had been to outline “preliminary” tactics rather than fixed rules of how to apprehend such dangerous people, said Mr Thwaites.
But did they “outline “preliminary” tactics”? If so, were these passed on to the right people?
“The prosecution have misconstrued the whole situation and misunderstood it.
“The prosecution have started with the benefit of hindsight – and hindsight turns everyone into a brilliant problem solver.”
Mr Thwaites said none of the commanders, surveillance teams and armed units could have predicted how a potential suicide bomber would act.
So when Mr de Menezes had been labelled a suspect, officers had feared an immediate arrest could alert other bombers still inside, leading them to blow up the entire block.
Who said they needed to arrest him immediately? It took time for him to walk to the bus stop, then travel by bus to Brixton, and then Stockwell.
Don’t take my word for it, use TFL’s Journey Planner to get the estimated time of the first leg of his journey, Scotia Road, to Stockwell tube, and then the second leg, from Stockwell tube to Brixton tube.
“A serious mistake was made in shooting him,” said Mr Thwaites. “But not every mistake is a crime.”
Right. But that’s for the jury to decide.