UK Liberty

Health and Safety

Posted in de Menezes by ukliberty on September 28, 2007

Owing to the state’s desire to see no-one particular punished for the death of Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes, shot by firearms officers in Brixton tube station supposedly on suspicion of being a suicide bomber, but conversely thinking that something ought to be done in court about it, the state is prosecuting the office of the Commissioner of the Police for the Metropolis for an offence contrary to section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.

Which leads to articles like this:

On Monday an intriguing trial opens at the Old Bailey that will give a new meaning to the phrase “health and safety police”. The office of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner will be in the dock, accused of failing to protect the health and safety of Jean-Charles de Menezes and, by extension, the public. That may seem to be something of an understatement: a police officer shot poor Mr de Menezes eight times. Given that he was not a terrorist, he may not seem to have posed much danger to the public. But the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decided to bring this case last year, when it ruled out bringing charges of murder or manslaughter against officers who genuinely believed that he was a suicide bomber. It will ask whether the police failed to do enough to protect the health and safety of the public by letting Mr de Menezes board a bus and then aTube train, rather than apprehending him earlier.

Whatever the outcome of this trial, holding it sets a precedent that is ringing alarm bells all over Whitehall. The Health and Safety At Work Act 1974 was designed to make employers take more seriously the safety of their employees. Thousands of lives have been saved by making companies think more carefully about hazards. But the Act was primarily designed to stop builders falling off unsafe ladders and factory workers corroding their lungs. It was not designed to deal with fast-moving police operations.

At any one time in these isles, there are about 50 counter-terrorism operations monitoring people who are thought to be dangerous. The police and the intelligence services make difficult judgments about how long to leave it before stepping in: balancing the chance of finding more evidence, and/or bigger fish, against the need to avert catastrophe. It is not clear how adding health and safety criteria to this mix would advance the cause of national security.

You may disagree with the decision by the CPS not to prosecute for manslaughter. You may think it distinctly rum that not a single officer has been sacked for involvement in the shooting. You may think that Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, should have paid a higher price: Mr de Menezes’s family certainly think so. But this trial will not change any of that. None of the officers will even appear. The worst the court can do, if it so chooses, will be to fine the Metropolitan Police. So we could see Scotland Yard handing money that it received from the Treasury back to the Treasury. Oh, and taxpayers footing the bill for legal fees.

While I sympathise with this view, there is one point that I believe it misses.

Without this trial, there will be no holding to account in any visible fashion of the people and organisations involved in this tragedy.

Swings and roundabouts.

Update

I forgot to post a link to the judgement on the application of a judicial review “for determination by the court [as to] whether the Director’s decision not to prosecute any individual police officer for murder or gross negligence manslaughter was lawful”.

Update 2

The article is entitled, “Pursuing terrorists is bad for your health”. Of course, de Menezes wasn’t a terrorist – it seems from the prosecutor’s opening that the police weren’t even sure whether or not he was a suspect.

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4 Responses

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  1. David Mery said, on September 29, 2007 at 1:05 am

    With this trial there’s no holding to account of the people involved. It in fact delays further the inquest into the death of Jean-Charles de Menezes. It is possible that the officers involved in the shooting may appear at the H&S trial as witness – if that happens it is unclear if it’ll be for the defense or the prosecution!

    There were some interesting discussions about this at the event organised by Justice4Jean. You can listen to the recording by the London Sound Posse. I’ve linked it at http://gizmonaut.net/blog/uk/menezes_two_years.html

    br -d

  2. ukliberty said, on October 1, 2007 at 3:28 pm

    Well, employees of the state will be called to give evidence. Of course no individuals will be directly punished. But there may be more information released into the public domain about the specific event and Operation Kratos in general; there may be knock-on effects such as adverse publicity, resignations, and policy changes.

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  4. Andrew Milner said, on October 31, 2007 at 6:09 am

    Notice that none of the actual shooters are being called to give evidence. Now why do you suppose that is? State security, perhaps? Well partly, because the men that shot Mr. de Menezes were not members of the MET. But the MET are being forced to take responsibility for the unlawful killing. Imagine they are not best pleased.
    If the MET and the SAS had come clean immediately after the shooting, perhaps that would have retained some sembalance of public support. But it’s too late for that now. It’s the cover-up that gets um in the end. Don’t make any holiday plans, guys.


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