Monday 17 July 2006

In Other News: Sun Comes Up In The Morning...

... and the Crown Prosecution Service said today, in what must be one of its most leaked and least surprising announcements, that once again, no police officer will face criminal charges for killing a member of the public.

This time there will be no charges for the execution of Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell tube station last year. We can now expect the line trotted out by Sir Chris Fox, chair of the Association of Police Officers on this morning's Today programme on Radio 4, that the police have a difficult job to
do and they thought their actions had made London a safer place, will be repeated by the Prime Minister, the Metropolitan Police Authority and everyone else with an interest in ensuring that there was no prosecution.

Fox is also quoted on the BBC website as saying that "holding people to account had to be done within the existing law of the land" but the law of the land seems pretty clear, unless of course a police officer is involved. Gross negligence involuntary manslaughter requires the existence of a duty of care, the breach of that duty of care causing death and the jury finding that the conduct of the person who owed the duty to be such as to be described as "gross negligence." Now it may seem like commom sense that the shooting someone dead because of what leaks from the Independent Police Complaints Commission describe as a catalgogue of failures by the police is grossly negligent. But it may have been that a jury would have decided that in favour of the officers and acquitted them. We shall never know. Justice [or the lack of it] is made by agencies of the state when it comes to the police, not by juries.

So if you are a coach driver who crashes killing a party of schoolchildren, or a seafarer who fails to shut the cargo doors of a car ferry, sinking it and killing hundreds, you can face prosecution, not because you deliberately set out to kill but because your actions were grossly negligent. But if you shoot someone and you are in a Metropolitan police uniform, don't worry, you'll never have to face a jury. It's no surprise that in 36 years there has only ever been one successful manslaughter prosecution for a death involving the police - and that was in 1970.

And the sun comes up in the morning and fairly soon, Sir Ian Blair will found to have acted entirely appropriately in the separate investigation into his conduct following Jean Charles de Menezes' death. All we have left is the hope that senior judges, who will hear the inevityable judicial review of the CPS' decision and who have shown a surprising degree of independence over recent months, will take a different view. Meanwhile, the relatives of Jean Charles join Irene Stanley, whose husband was gunned down by the police because he was carrying a table leg, and Pauline Ashley, whose brother was shot dead in his bed in Hastings, in wondering if the day will ever come when police officers can no longer shoot members of the public with impunity.

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