Jurors at an inquest into the death of an innocent Brazilian mistakenly shot by British police during an anti-terror operation cannot decide that he was killed unlawfully, a coroner said on Tuesday.
The former High Court judge in charge of the London inquest into the death of Jean Charles de Menezes told the jury they can only reach a verdict of lawful killing or an “open verdict” — a finding of death without stating the cause.
After seven weeks of evidence in the closely watched case, coroner Michael Wright told the jury that a verdict of unlawful killing was “not justified.”
De Menezes was shot seven times in the head at a London Underground subway train station on July 22, 2005, the day after a failed attempt to replicate the attacks on July 7 when four suicide bombers killed 52 innocent people.
Police had followed the 27-year-old electrician onto a train in the mistaken belief that he was failed suicide bomber Hussain Osman, who was then on the run and lived in De Menezes’ block of flats.
The coroner told the 11 jurors they must set aside any emotion over the killing and that their verdict could not be inconsistent with a trial last year that spared senior police officers of individual blame.
Noting that De Menezes’ mother had listened to much of the harrowing evidence, he said: “I know that your heart will go out to her.
“But these are emotional reactions, ladies and gentlemen, and you are charged with returning a verdict based on evidence. Put aside any emotions — put them to one side,” Wright said.
He said his instruction ruling out unlawful killing did not mean that police were absolved.
“In directing you that you cannot return a verdict of unlawful killing, I am not saying that nothing went wrong on a police operation which resulted in the killing of an innocent man,” he said.
But a verdict of unlawful killing could only be considered in the case of a very serious crime, such as murder or manslaughter, he said, and the evidence did “not allow” him to offer it as a possible verdict.
The coroner is expected to use at least two days taking the jury back through the key evidence heard at the inquest, and has asked jurors to consider four questions in addition to the two available verdicts.
These concerned whether the police gave warning before shooting De Menezes; whether he stood up, or moved toward one of the armed officers before being grabbed; and which specific factors led to his death.