The Curmudgeon


Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Entirely A Matter For You

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury. Over the past ten weeks, you have heard from a hundred witnesses about this regrettable incident which took place so long ago.

Your hearts will go out to the alleged illegal immigrant's mother, whose insistence on pursuing this matter has led to your being stuck in this stuffy courtroom when you could be out safeguarding your jobs by doing your Christmas shopping and helping the economy recover. It is true, also, that Mrs De Menezes comes from a southern, tropical country with a large Hispanic population, where excessive emotionality is as much the norm as large families in which a child or so can hardly be missed, and where the absence of an extra mouth to feed can come as a positive relief. But these are emotional reactions, ladies and gentlemen, and you are charged with returning a verdict based on evidence.

After hearing the submissions the conclusion that I have come to is that the evidence in this case taken at its highest would not justify my leaving verdicts of unlawful killing to you. It is not unlawful for a policeman to shoot an innocent man seven times in the head as a result of institutional negligence. A previous inquiry has determined that public safety was put at risk, but the Metropolitan Police has paid its debt to society in the form of a fine of a hundred and seventy-five thousand pounds which was covered by the taxpayer. Divided between seven and a half million Londoners, this amounts to approximately two point three pence per taxpayer. I am sure all those civilians who were on the Underground train when the unfortunate incident took place will consider this a small enough price to pay for not being shot.

You have, therefore, a choice of two verdicts: lawful killing and an open verdict. De Menezes was lawfully killed if the person who instantly and utterly restrained him from detonating the bomb he might possibly have had under completely different circumstances used reasonable force in self-defence or defence of another person, or to prevent a crime, or to assist in lawful arrest. You are also at liberty to return an open verdict, indicating that your time and the taxpayers' money has been entirely wasted. That is entirely a matter for you.

You may also - if you feel you must - consider the possibility that some witnesses may be lying. You may, for example, consider the testimony of officer C12, who said he warned the alleged drug-user De Menezes with a shout of "armed police". You may consider the fact that this testimony was unanimously contradicted by a lot of bleary-eyed civilians with no specialist training that would render them capable of recognising such a warning in such highly unusual circumstances. That is entirely a matter for you. But you must also decide whether the person has lied or made an honest mistake. If you can prove that the witness has lied, by telepathy or other means, you should bear unemotionally in mind that people tell lies for a variety of reasons, not necessarily to put their own part. In the context of this case it might be to mitigate the impact of what might, in an emotional person, be considered a tragic mistake or to support others in explanations they may have put forward. And then you may find yourself considering the idea that members of the best police force in the world should not exercise tact, or that they should not be permitted to give one another a modicum of comradely aid in coming through this long and painful ordeal. That is entirely a matter for you.

Even if you do find that C12 lied, remember that it does not automatically follow that he could not have been engaging in justifiable homicide, or even meritorious detrimentation. It will be a sad day for the British legal system when a policeman who fired seven shots at point-blank range into a man's head and then told untruths about the incident can be accused of being in breach of the law.

with apologies to Peter Cook


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