A senior British police officer knew within hours that marksmen had wrongly killed a Brazilian electrician they had mistaken for a terrorist, but deliberately withheld the information from superiors and misled the public, an inquiry into the killing reported yesterday.
Jean Charles de Menezes, 27, was shot seven times in the head in a subway car by counterterrorism police hunting suspects following London's 2005 transit network bombings.
The report by the Independent Police Complaints Commission said that Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman, head of London's police counterterrorism unit, told a group of journalists from the Crime Reporters' Association at a briefing on the afternoon of the shooting that de Menezes was not linked to the failed bombings a day earlier.
Such briefings are often held on condition of anonymity.
But a couple of hours later he allowed the police force to put out a press release saying it was not known whether the dead man was one of the failed bombers.
The report said Hayman must have misled the public on one of the two occasions.
"He could not have believed both inconsistent statements were true," it said.
It also said Hayman "deliberately withheld the information ... despite being asked for information" by Metropolitan Police Commissioner Ian Blair and government officials.
The July 22, 2005, shooting occurred 15 days after four suicide bombers killed 52 bus and subway passengers in the capital, and just a day after a failed attempt to detonate bombs on the transport system, as tensions across London ran high.
Officers initially claimed that the Brazilian was a suspect linked to the attacks and police told reporters that his bulky clothing and panicked manner had caused commanders to fear he was a suicide bomber.
Investigations later showed de Menezes had not run, worn bulky clothing or resisted arrest.
The report paints a picture of chaos within London's Metropolitan Police force after the July 2005 terrorist attacks and criticizes errors made in handling critical information about the hunt for the suspected bombers.
It said rumors swirled around London police stations following the shooting, with several senior officers told that a Brazilian tourist had been killed.
By late afternoon, a senior police officer not involved in the killing was told that there had been "a massive cock-up," the report said.
But it was the following afternoon before police publicly acknowledged that de Menezes had been shot mistakenly.
Hayman "chose to mislead the public by his actions," the report said.