Next week is the third anniversary of the murder of Jean Charles de Menezes. Some will object to my choice of the word "murder." In England, a killing is murder if two elements are present and there is no valid defence. The first element - the actus reus - the act that led to the death is clearly present. The second element - the mens rea - is intent. If the killer intended either to kill or to cause Jean Charles grievous bodily harm, then unless there was a valid defence, it was murder. No-one who blows off another man's head with seven dum dum bullets is really in a position to deny his lethal intent.
A defence of provocation would require Jean Charles to have done something to provoke his killer into losing control of himself. He had no time to do so. He was killed immediately by a total stranger.
I don't imagine the killer would have pleaded diminished responsibility on the basis that the balance of his mind was disturbed when the act was committed. In the heated atmosphere of the time, no doubt his blood was up. We could speculate endlessly as to the state of mind of someone who can kill a helpless fellow-human being under restraint. But we may be confident that this would not be the killer's defence.
The only "runner" here is self-defence. Had I had killed Jean-Charles because I mistakenly believed he was a suicide bomber about to detonate, that would be my defence. I think it would be a good one, though I would expect to be severely tested under cross-examination as to the truth of my mistake and the basis for it.
Had I been the killer however, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service would quite properly have said that it was for a jury to decide if my defence was valid. Had they said that to the killer in this case, the jury would probably have acquitted. That is not what happened. One agency of the state (the Crown Prosecution Service) shielded another (the Metropolitan Police) and justice has neither been done, nor seen to be done. There is now clearly one rule in Britain for ordinary citizens and quite another for the state's employees. That, with all due respect to his grieving family, is the true significance of Jean-Charles' death.
If brought to trial, the gunman would have had some difficulties with evidence. Another officer had already restrained Jean-Charles. The killer would have had to convince a jury he had no time to register that Jean-Charles was lightly dressed with no place to conceal a bomb belt. But in the fevered atmosphere of the time, and given the false information incompetently communicated by the killer's colleagues, I still think a jury would have acquitted.
So why do I now say it was murder? If the case were brought now, years late, the circumstances would be very different. The killer's attempts to evade justice would forfeit the jury's sympathy. Jury members would consider more closely the possibility that - as he pulled the trigger seven times to blow off the head of an innocent man - he knew that he was no threat. They would listen more carefully to the evidence of the officer who was holding Jean-Charles down and according to his evidence at the farcical "health & safety" trial, perceived no further threat. They would consider more seriously the possibility that, in a heightened state of excitement, having geared himself up to kill and knowing he could do so without consequences, the killer simply refused to be denied his prey.
Why would he pull (and pull and pull) the trigger if he knew at that moment that Jean-Charles was innocent? Humans are violent. Men particularly so. When there is war or other justification to break the 6th Commandment there is never a shortage of volunteers. There is a dark reason why "The Godfather" is the most loved film of all time and why men test their new televisions with the opening sequence of "Gladiator." In our animal nature we are killers, and that is why throughout the history of civilisation, killing has been surrounded with laws and taboos. It had to be.
We are told its own report concludes the Met "has not learned" from this incident. I disagree. The Met's officers have learned that they are above the law. They have learned that the state will back them, conceal their identity, reward them with holidays at the taxpayers expense and generally treat them as "one of its own" if they kill those merely suspected to be its enemies. They have learned that all this applies however reckless or incompetent they may be and that they can defame their victims shamelessly without any consequences. They have learned dark and terrible lessons.
I remain convinced that the death of Jean-Charles de Menezes is the most significant event of my life to date; though I have lived through some of the most eventful times in human history. 9/11 changed nothing. Neither did 7/7. They told us what we already knew - that there are barbarians in the world and that as George Orwell put it;
"People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf."
Jean-Charles' death however did change something. The day he died, my England - the England of fair trials, of justice being seen to be done - died with him. That is why, if I were in London next week rather than Moscow, I would attend one of the events recommended by Rachel (the living proof that politicians lie when they claim the victims of terrorism despise those who believe in "old-fashioned" notions of liberty and justice). Full details are to be found at Justice4Jean.com (from where I took the images in this post).
If you have in you the spirit of the England that once was, please be there for me and for the others who can't make it. Above all be there for an innocent young man who was killed in your name.