From the Irish World, 2 Sep 2005 edition, by Tom Griffin
The killing of Brazilian Jean Charles De Menezes the day after the 21 July bombings has focused worldwide attention on the use of firearms by London’s police.
However, many of the questions raised by the case are not new. For the past six years, Belfast man Terry Stewart has campaigned around the issue of police shootings as spokesman for the Harry Stanley Campaign.
Scotsman Stanley was shot dead in Hackney in September 1999, after police officers received a phone call claiming that the table leg he was carrying was a sawn off shotgun. Stewart sees many parallels between the two incidents.
“The first media reports about Harry Stanley were that he was an IRA man, he was Irish, there was all kinds of stuff leaking out about why he was shot,” he says. “The same happened with Menendez, the stuff about him leaping over the barrier, not paying for his ticket, having a passport with an out of date visa on it.”
“We see that in all the cases. In many of the cases that I’ve attended, both inquests and other court proceedings, there’s been a serious attempt to blacken the victim’s name, and they become the issue rather than the people who killed them.”
The shooting of an innocent person can have serious implications for the police force involved, as was demonstrated in the case of second generation Irishman James Ashley, who was shot dead in East Sussex in 1998.
His family has since campaigned for an independent public inquiry, backed by the United Friends and Family Campaign, a coalition of relatives which includes the Stanley family.
The case ultimately led to the resignation of the then Chief Constable of Sussex, a fact which has been cited as a precedent by critics of Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair.
However, Stewart argues that Sir Ian’s resignation would not bring about fundamental change.
London Mayor Ken Livingstone has said that Blair is “a radical and reforming commissioner who is making major changes in the police, he has many enemies in there who really don’t want to see these changes, who want to hold on to the old way.”
“I am sure many of them are taking every chance here to undermine him," Livingstone claimed.
The potential for tensions within the Metropolitan Police around firearms issues was illustrated earlier this year following the second inquest into the death of Harry Stanley, which delivered its verdict when Blair was still Deputy to Sir John Stevens.
“Just before Blair came in, Harry Stanley’s widow got the decision of unlawful killing,” Stewart recalls. “Blair suspended the officers. The armed response officers then decided to step down their licenses and stop carrying arms. Sir John Stevens was out of the country that week. When he came back, the officers were reinstated.”
“I don’t call for Blair’s resignation, because if he resigns somebody else comes in his place, maybe somebody better, somebody worse. It doesn’t really make any difference who is there at the top. It’s how they conduct themselves.”
“When you consider the amount of arms on the streets of London being carried by firearms officers from whatever divisions there’s been very few deaths.”
“ Those deaths that do take place should be properly investigated in a proper and open manner to see whether or not these officers have committed an offence, have they stepped outside the law themselves, and who is instructing them, because when it comes to confidence in the police these incidents are not doing anyone any favours.”
“We have to realise there is an issue with the bombings, but if there’s to be confidence in the police, they can’t be seen to be working outside or above the law.”
A benefit screening of the film Injustice will be hosted by the United Friends and Families Campaign on 2nd September 2005 at Prince Charles Cinema, 7 Leicester Place, LONDON WC2H in aid of the families of Jean Charles de Menezes and
Azelle Rodney. Tickets £5.00 Booking Line: 020 7494 3654. 6.30pm screening followed by Q&A with families and filmmakers