Workers Hammer No. 205

Winter 2008-2009


De Menezes inquest whitewashes police killing

At the conclusion of the inquest into the July 2005 killing of Jean Charles de Menezes by the Metropolitan Police the jury returned an open verdict, rejecting the police claim that the Brazilian electrician was lawfully killed. Members of the de Menezes family had previously walked out of the court in disgust when the coroner instructed the jury not to consider a verdict of unlawful killing. The family has been waging a determined fight to hold the Metropolitan Police to account for this cold-blooded killing in which Jean Charles was held down and shot seven times in the head on a Tube train at Stockwell Station in South London after being targeted as a “terror suspect”.

The British capitalist state has never even pretended that any cop would face criminal charges for the cold-blooded slaying of Jean Charles de Menezes. In fact every hearing in the case so far has amnestied the police. The execution of de Menezes was perpetrated in the name of the Labour government’s racist “war on terror” and the state is intent on making its message very clear: if you are deemed a “terror suspect”, the cops can shoot you dead and they will get away with it.

Summing up the evidence at the inquest, Wright was blatantly biased in favour of the police. The Guardian, (3 December 2008) reports that he asserted that even if the jury found the officers had lied, they would not be able to blame them for the death: “people tell lies for a variety of reasons”, including “to mitigate the impact” of what might be a “tragic mistake”. In November 2007, an Old Bailey trial of the office of the Metropolitan Police imposed a fine on the Met for risking the “health and safety” of the public. At the trial, police lawyer Ronald Thwaites stated that the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes was “a terrible accident” but asserted “it is not the fault of the police” (BBC News online, 26 October 2007). The trial specifically exonerated Cressida Dick, the officer who gave the order to “stop” de Menezes, saying she bore “no personal culpability”. The coroner at the inquest instructed the jury that their verdict must not be inconsistent with that conclusion.

Police giving evidence at the inquest once again insisted that they did nothing wrong. Cressida Dick claimed that de Menezes was simply the victim of “terrible and extraordinary circumstances” and stated: “If you ask me whether I think anybody did anything wrong or unreasonable in the operation, I don’t think they did” (Independent, 6 October 2008). Moreover, the cops maintain that they could do it again. In response to a question by Michael Mansfield QC, representing the de Menezes family, the senior police commander in charge of the operation, Deputy Assistant Commissioner John McDowell stated: “I very much hope that this will never happen again. But at the same time, with human beings, it is entirely feasible the same tragedy may occur again just with the way that circumstances sometimes unravel themselves” (Independent, 26 September 2008). A year after the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes, Mohammed Abdul Kahar almost did become another victim of the “war on terror” when he was shot in the chest during a massive police raid on his home in Forest Gate.

Both the cops and the courts regard the execution of de Menezes as entirely justified in the name of the “war on terror”. The cops seized on the criminal terror bombings of the London transport system on 7 July 2005 and the bombing scare that followed two weeks later, to legitimise “shoot-to-kill” for “terrorism” suspects. Witness statements at the inquest testified to the frenzy of the cops. Anna Dunwoodie, a passenger on the train at the time of the shooting, described the cops as “out of control”; another eyewitness, Rachel Wilson, said she thought the police were terrorists. Both refuted the cops’ claim that they shouted a warning to Jean Charles de Menezes before killing him. As Michael Mansfield put it to one of the cops who pulled the trigger, codenamed C12, “What I suggest is in your mind that once you knew he was identified, that was it — you are down the escalator, on the carriage and he is dead.”

Shoot-to-kill has long been the form of “justice” meted out by British imperialism to “IRA suspects” in Northern Ireland. With the pretext of the “terrorist threat”, the oppression that has historically been visited by British imperialism on the Catholic population of Northern Ireland — internment without trial, no-jury courts etc — is now being brought “home” with a vengeance. In the operation that culminated in the death of de Menezes, the Metropolitan Police were assisted by a shadowy army regiment which, according to the Guardian (4 August 2005), was set up in April 2005 “to help combat international terrorism”. The Guardian article notes that the Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SRR) “absorbed 14th Intelligence Company, known as ‘14 Int’, a plainclothes unit set up to gather intelligence covertly on suspect terrorists in Northern Ireland”. Appointed to run the SRR was one Brigadier Gordon Kerr who was named in a file handed to the Director of Public Prosecutions by the Stevens Inquiry investigating collusion between British security forces and Loyalist paramilitaries in the killing of Catholics, including Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane in 1989.

Workers must defend Muslims!

Labour’s “war on terror” has massively expanded the bourgeois state’s arsenal of repression. Directed in the first instance against Britain’s oppressed Muslim population who are indiscriminately stigmatised as “terror suspects”, this state vendetta has fuelled a massive increase in racist attacks, which serves to further divide and weaken the working class. Ultimately the target of the “war on terror” is the multiethnic proletariat, which alone has the social power to overthrow the capitalist system of exploitation and oppression.

While the execution of de Menezes has been the signature of the “war on terror” in Britain, thus far there has been relatively little protest by the Labourite left in support of the family’s campaign. This is not unconnected to the fact that the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and the rest of the Labourite swamp, are ardent supporters of Ken Livingstone, former Labour mayor of London. Livingstone consistently backed the cops over the killing of de Menezes. During the mayoral elections the reformist left lined up once again in support of Livingstone — including the SWP who stood their own candidate Lindsey German but gave second preference votes to Livingstone. In contrast, in our press (Workers Hammer no 202, Spring 2008) we said: “No vote to Livingstone! A vote for Livingstone is an affront to the memory of Jean Charles de Menezes!

We Marxists do not rely for justice on the capitalist state — of which the cops and courts are a core part — but on the strength of the working class, mobilised independently of the capitalists. A mobilisation of union power against the racist scapegoating of Muslims would strengthen the fighting capacity of the working class as a whole. At the time of the shooting of de Menezes, an armed cop chased the train driver Quincy Akpesiri Oji, an ASLEF member, into the tunnel. The driver spoke at the inquest of his fear on hearing the gunshots: “I saw one of the men with a large gun shooting and I thought they were fanatics and they were shooting at people on the carriage” and recounted pleading for his life: “Please do not shoot — I am the driver.”

Had the execution of de Menezes been met by a determined protest by the powerful, multiethnic London transport unions — the RMT, ASLEF members in the Tube and bus drivers in Unite and other unions — it would have given the police pause before they kill again. However, mobilising the power of the working class in its own defence and in defence of all the oppressed requires a political struggle against the misleaders of the trade unions who are tied to Labour and to the capitalist system. The failure of the union leadership to mobilise opposition to the “war on terror” has only emboldened the Labour government in its attacks on the working people.

A momentous demonstration of the power the unions in London can wield was seen barely a month after the execution of de Menezes when in August 2005 a wildcat strike paralysed British Airways and brought Heathrow, one of the world’s busiest airports, almost to a halt. Hundreds of BA staff organised in the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU — now part of Unite) struck when the airline catering firm Gate Gourmet sacked 670 South Asian, mainly women workers. This impressive strike not only defied the anti-union laws, but significantly was launched in the teeth of the anti-terror hysteria whipped up by the government in the wake of the 7 July criminal terror bombings. It cost BA bosses £40 million in just two days and was defeated only by the treachery of the TGWU misleaders, who repudiated the strike as “unlawful” and forced a sell-out.

The Spartacist League is fighting to forge a multiethnic revolutionary workers party that will be steeled in the struggle against every manifestation of racism and oppression. Our aim is to mobilise the working class and all the oppressed in a struggle to overthrow the bloody rule of the capitalist class. Jean Charles de Menezes and countless other victims of British capitalist repression will be avenged by victorious social revolution.