IMAGE: Jean Charles de Menezes memorial
Facundo Elarriz  /  EPA file
Friends of Jean Charles de Menezes lay flowers at a makeshift shrine at Stockwell tube station in London on July 22, the second anniversary his death. The Brazilian was shot dead at the subway station by British police who had mistakenly identified him as a suicide bomber.
updated 8/2/2007 9:07:27 AM ET 2007-08-02T13:07:27

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 Thursday.

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 bombings.

The report by the Independent Police Complaints Commission said that Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman, head of London’s police counterterrorism unit, told journalists 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 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. “He could not have believed both inconsistent statements were true,” it said.

‘Deliberately withheld the information’
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. Tensions across London were running high.

Officers initially claimed the Brazilian was a suspect linked to the attacks and police told reporters 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 there had been “a massive cock-up,” the report said.

But it was the following afternoon before police publicly acknowledged that de Menezes was innocent and had been shot mistakenly.

Hayman “chose to mislead the public by his actions,” the report said. It said his decisions had raised serious concerns and recommended authorities take action over his conduct.

His actions “may have prevented further discussion about the status of the deceased, including the possibility that he was innocent” on the evening of the shooting, the report said.

Top cop cleared of blame
It absolved police chief Blair of any blame, saying there was no evidence he had known about the mistakes when he publicly praised his officers.

David Davis, home affairs spokesman for the opposition Conservatives, said the report had highlighted “a worrying lack of coordination and exchange of information in the senior ranks ... at a time when they should have been acting in a unified way to tackle a serious crisis.”

The inquiry is the second report into the killing, but the first to be publicly released. An earlier investigation by the police complaints board, which has not been published, ruled out prosecuting any police over the case, clearing officers involved of wrongdoing or criminal negligence.

Cressida Dick, the commander in charge of the operation that led to the killing at Stockwell subway station in south London, has since been promoted by London’s police force.

The force as a whole is facing trial in October over alleged safety offenses related to its armed response policy.

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