The word “impunity” – exemption from any possibility of punishment or harm – comes up again and again when bereaved families talk about the death of a loved one at the hands of the police. The family of Jean Charles de Menezes used it again in a statement yesterday.
It is little wonder, when charges against officers are so rare, when investigations take so long and when efforts to discover the truth are so vigorously contested, that many start to believe the police – uniquely in society – are immune from prosecution following a death in their care.
Often it seems all families are allowed to hope for is a vague promise to “learn the lessons from the tragedy” and the possibility that senior officers feel at least some sense of shame for the loss of life on their watch. But justice? That is apparently asking for too much.
The announcement of the appointment of Cressida Dick as the next Metropolitan Police Commissioner must feel particularly painful for the Menezes family. Ms. Dick was the senior officer in charge of the botched operation that led to the execution of the Brazilian commuter by firearms officers at Stockwell underground station in London in the summer of 2005.
The Metropolitan Police then lied about the circumstances of Jean’s death and during subsequent investigations vital evidence went missing, including Cressida Dick’s instructions to allow Jean into the station because he did not appear a threat. In 2007, the Met was eventually found guilty of breaking health and safety laws and endangering the lives of Londoners and a year later, an inquest jury decided that a series of police failures contributed to Jean’s death. No individual officers were ever charged or disciplined. Read more