Jean Charles de Menezes: two decades on

5 Mins read

How did the incident unfold and what do Brazilian Londoners remember from it as we approach 20 years since his death?

The 7/7 terrorist attacks brought London to its knees back in 2005. Four bombs went off in three underground carriages and a bus.

The first TV reports claimed electrical faults were causing tube carriages to explode. At the Tavistock Square blast, doctors were seen rushing out of their morning meetings at the British Medical Association, which is just opposite, to help injured civilians.

It was the worst terrorist incident carried out on British soil – 52 people were killed and 100 were injured.

“It was horrific, a total panic. I remember being at a news agent and seeing everything on TV,” says Dirceu Pozzebon, a landlord from Brazil who has helped many Brazilians settle in the capital. “It happened right on the day my daughter was heading to South America with her mother”, he adds.

“I was afraid of leaving my house for a long time after what happened.”

Karina maximo

Public transport in London came to a standstill, which meant roads were busier than usual. “It took us seven hours to get to the airport. When we got there, I thought ‘What if they bomb our plane?’”

The city was in a state of high alert with commuters seen walking miles to get to work, avoiding taking buses or trains. “I was afraid of leaving my house for a long time after what happened,” says Karina Maximo, a cleaner from Brazil who was living in London during the attacks.

The British government at the time was under enormous pressure to track down the perpetrators and an intense search for them ensued. The bombers were identified within 24 hours.

Two weeks later another four terrorist attacks took place in London. On July 21, three incidents occurred on the underground at Warren Street, Oval and Shepherd’s Bush stations and fourth on the upper deck of a bus in Hackney Road. This time only the detonators of the bombs exploded, and there were no fatalities.

A man stands in front of motorcycles at a motorcycle repair shop.
Fábio Leandro at the motorcycle repair shop where he is manager [Fellipe Pigatto de Andrades]

Hussain Osman was suspected to be one of the plotters of these attacks. An address on Scotia Road was found on a gym card in a bag believed to belong to Osman.

Jean Charles de Menezes, a 27-year-old electrician and Brazilian national, happened to live in the same building with his 22-year-old cousin, Vivian Figueredo.

Later, the gym card came to be identified as belonging to Abdi Omar who knew Osman and lived in the flat above de Menezes’. Osman and Omar were both directly involved in the July 21 failed bombing attempts.

The next day, surveillance officers were outside the block of flats identifying residents entering or leaving the building and a soldier was in charge of videotaping them so they could be matched with suspects.

That morning, however, the soldier in question was taking a toilet break when de Menezes left for work. Police officers decided to follow him without checking any identification. De Menezes boarded the Number 2 bus in Tulse Hill and briefly got off at Brixton station, but, realising the station was closed due to the terror incidents on the previous day, he then made his way to Stockwell station.

The officers at this point became more suspicious of him, but were unaware the station was closed, according to reports. “What was going around then was that Jean Charles had run into the station and jumped the tickets barriers. People were saying that, being an electrician, he had wires coming out of his jacket. So, you can imagine what could have unfolded,” says Pozzebon.

Fábio Leandro, a motorcycle repair shop manager from Brazil who has lived in London for 23 years says: “Rumours were that he knew he was being followed”.

In truth, it was revealed later through CCTV footage that de Menezes entered the station calmly, picked up a newspaper and went through the barriers like any other commuter. It was concluded that he did not know he was being followed.

Before he entered the station, the police had already contacted the Specialist Firearms Command claiming de Menezes resembled Hussain Osman. Firearm officers were seen rushing into the station within minutes and heading down the escalators.

According to Metropolitan police commissioner Ian Blair, de Menezes was challenged but refused to obey police instructions. He was subsequently grabbed, dragged out of a train carriage, shot seven times in the head and once in the shoulder.

“The police was in such a state of anxiety that someone innocent was bound to die,” says Pozzebon. Pascuale Martinez, a Brazilian national who lives in London, thinks differently: “The thing is, he reacted abruptly to police orders and that’s that. That’s what people say”. Essentially, that is what the Met has claimed from the beginning.

“He was at the wrong place at the wrong time”

fábio Leandro

Such encounters are complicated by the ‘shoot-and-kill’ legislation introduced by the government since the 9/11 attacks in the United States, toughening police treatment of terrorism suspects.

The Met was instructed to immediately shoot suicide bombers before they had a chance to detonate any device since then. That day, Blair publicly said de Menezes death was linked to the anti-terror operations in London, but apologised after the confirmation that he was not involved in any terror-related activity.

In 2007, a report by the Independent Police Complaints Commission revealed that there was a failure in the surveillance operation and that the police wrongly believed de Menezes could have been one of the two suspects. Initial claims by Scotland Yard that he had jumped the barriers and wore a bulky jacket were later proven false.

“He was at the wrong place at the wrong time,” says Leandro. It was a case of mistaken identity. A temporary shrine was put up at the War Memorial near Stockwell tube station. Five years later, Transport for London approved a permanent memorial outside the station after a campaign by his family.

Customers are sat outside Cafe Rio and a Brazilian flag is seen above the cafe's sign.
Cafe Rio in Warren Street, London [Fellipe Pigatto de Andrades]

“He used to come to the café right after I opened it and wore black most of the time,” says Hilda, owner of Cafe Rio in Warren Street, a London institution that has welcomed Brazilian journalists and famous faces since its opening in 2004. “He was supposed to come and fix the power,” she says.

Another of Hilda’s friends who has known de Menezes is Edimar, who lives in Brighton: “He was very good at fixing intercoms and, a womaniser”, he says, chuckling. Hilda and Edimar were guests at a wedding near Brighton where de Menezes was working as a photographer. “I would speak to him in Portuguese, but he would always reply in English,” says Hilda.

The family of de Menezes was hand-delivered a letter in Brazil by the Met, offering a payment of £15,000 immediately after his killing, causing his parents to feel ‘disgusted’. The Met police was later found guilty of the shooting of de Menezes at an Old Bailey trial and his family settled for a £100,000 payout.

However, the Crown Prosecution Service decided none of the Met police officers involved in the operation should face individual charges. This was challenged by Patricia Armani da Silva, de Menezes’ cousin, at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg in 2015. The court ruled that there was not enough evidence to prosecute any of the officers.

De Menezes killing is just one of many cases where innocent civilians fall victims to the police and, in response, officers have protested for their right to carry out their jobs.

His death was seen by many senior figures in the police as a casualty. Some believe the lead in the Met’s counter-terrorism operation at the time, Cressida Dick, was at fault. Regardless of who or what might have caused it, and much less like a position that can be replaced, de Menezes life was unique.

Even though the family appears to have some emotional resolution, Like Armani da Silva, Fabio Leandro believes justice itself might not come: “The compensation they received was like trying to cover a black hole. The family should keep seeking it.”

Featured image by Fellipe Pigatto de Andrades

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