A senior anti-terrorist officer yesterday told a jury at the Old Bailey that commanders twice changed their minds about what to do in the moments before Jean Charles de Menezes was shot dead by police marksmen.
The court heard that as the 27-year-old Brazilian electrician made his way to work in south London on July 22 2005 – the day after a failed attack by Islamist bombers on the capital’s transport network – police commanders at New Scotland Yard decided that surveillance officers should detain him before he reached Stockwell tube station, as a specialist firearms team had not arrived.
But almost immediately the control room was told that the elite armed squad were in position, and Commander Cressida Dick ordered them to detain Mr Menezes, who detectives believed was one of the would-be suicide bombers of the previous day.
Detective Superintendent Jon Boutcher told the court that he expected the arrest to take place before Mr Menezes went underground at the station. However, the next message to reach the control room was that the suspect was on the escalator to the station platform. The control room then lost radio contact with the officers as they followed Mr Menezes underground.
The court has heard that surveillance officers followed Mr Menezes from his flat in south London in the belief that he was one of the unsuccessful bombers of the previous day. When he arrived at Stockwell he was being tailed by a Special Branch (SO12) surveillance team.
Det Supt Boutcher said he told Commander Dick that she should instruct the SO12 team to detain Mr Menezes, as the specialist firearms officers were not there.
“The SO12 officers are not trained for armed intervention,” he said. “They carry firearms merely for self-protection, but in my judgment this was potentially Hussain Osman [one of the previous day's bomb plotters] and a reasonable and balanced decision would be to stop the subject with the surveillance team before he was able to get into the underground.”
He told the court that Cdr Dick ordered that the SO12 team should stop Mr Menezes, but “almost immediately” the operations room learned from Trojan 80 – the senior firearms tactical adviser – “that the SO19 [firearms] team were now in position to arrest the subject”.
Later, Det Supt Boutcher confirmed that the police’s Kratos “shoot to kill” command was never given to officers following Mr Menezes.
He added that the reason for the delay in firearms officers getting to the scene was because of problems with identification of Mr Menezes. “They were ideally located to join the surveillance team to conduct an intervention. Simply because of the difficulty regarding the surveillance team confirming the suspect was Hussain Osman there was that slight delay.”
Clare Montgomery QC, prosecuting, asked if a crowded tube train was the best place to challenge Mr Menezes. The officer replied: “It was the first available opportunity. It is not ideal, but in London there are very few places for an ideal intervention to occur.”
Giving evidence to the Old Bailey trial, Detective Inspector Andrew Whiddett of the force’s Special Branch said the Metropolitan Police had taken steps to prepare for a suicide bomber attack.
Det Insp Whiddett was the Operations Room officer with responsibility for surveillance teams who first identified Mr Menezes. He was seen leaving a block of flats linked to one of the failed bombers.
Those steps included consulting Israeli security forces which had the most experience of dealing with such attacks, he told the court.
The Israelis had met with Met police officers in the months leading up to the July 2005 suicide bombings on London.
In the briefings, said Det Insp Whiddett, Israeli security chiefs had demonstrated how suicide bombers had developed new ways of carrying a bomb that “may not be apparent”.
Both the 7 and 21 July attackers used bulky bombs in rucksacks, but Mr de Menezes was not carrying anything on the morning of his death.
Det Insp Whiddett told the jury that Israeli officers had briefed the Met on one attack carried out by two British men.
Asif Hanif and Omar Sharif attacked a Tel Aviv bar in 2003. The bombs used in that attack included “sheet explosives of a military kind concealed about the body more effectively than the traditional home-made suicide belts and vests,” said the police officer.
What is the inference the jury is supposed to draw from this?
That the wannabe suicide bombers went out on 21/7 with some bombs in rucksacks, leaving some easily concealable, military-grade explosives at home, which ‘Osman’ (de Menezes) could have concealed under his denim jacket the next day?