The Independent Police Complaints Commission leaves me mystified at the legal interpretation of the facts surrounding the death of Jean Charles de Menezes. He was not murdered, oh no! Perhaps the unseen hand of Allah was at work? Not at all. The IPCC's report was more mysterious than anything legal history has managed in the past.
In short, he wasn't murdered; he wasn't slaughtered by the hand of man. He simply withered away because the Metropolitan Police failed in its duty. The core recommendation says that the Metropolitan Police failed to secure his good health and safe passage on the London Underground. The same principle could apply, by extension, to the young Muslim in the Forest Gate raid who was shot in the chest; to the tenant who suffered a split skull at the same time and at the same address; and to the middle-aged woman who was slapped around. Add to these the long list of young black men who have died in police custody: all, we can now be told, are simply a matter of health and safety.
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 evolved out of a completely different set of historical circumstances. The Factories Act was passed in order to protect workers from ruthless capitalists who worked them in conditions which caused many deaths and serious injury.
The Health and Safety Act then made a tiny leap to incorporate passengers who lost their lives in train accidents for which corporate heads could be deemed responsible through inaction and negligence. Now, the IPCC equates de Menezes's death on a train with those who died in the Paddington accident. Never mind the bullets to the head, never mind that the train was standing still, never mind that the two events do not resemble each other in any way.
Another point. The Metropolitan Police will be prosecuted under criminal law but who will stand in the dock? Members of the Metropolitan Police Authority? The Home Secretary? The Metropolitan Police commander Cressida Dick who, it is said, gave the order to kill? Or the officer who was pissing in the wind when he was supposed to be paying attention to the suspect? Bullets seem to be flying around these days without trigger fingers to project them. No guilty minds exist; there is no mens rea to establish who is the criminal and what is the crime.
Jean Charles de Menezes deserves much better than this. At best, he is a casualty of war, at worst the victim of murderous police officers with careless hands. There can be no middle ground.
All of this became inevitable once our political leaders proclaimed a "war on terror". Until that term was coined, I thought I knew what a war was. After all, my parents never tired of telling me I was a war baby. On the very day that my mother laboured to eject me from the comfort of her womb, American and British military aircraft began around-the-clock bombing of Nazi Germany, and within a couple of weeks 130,000 German troops surrendered in Tunisia.
How do these events compare, even remotely, with the circumstances in which four misguided Pakistani youths from Beeston in Leeds, with boosters strapped around their waists, set off for London to kill 50 of our citizens?
This bizarre alarmism produced the shoot-to- kill policy and other military fantasies which infest the minds of our police officers. The gratuitous loss of life was inevitable and there will be more, if only because the murderers of de Menezes will go their merry, trigger-happy way unpunished.
We, the citizenry, need to insist that the police be made to calm down. They need to be told that it is a myth that London's 31,141 police officers are capable of protecting the capital's 7.2 million citizens. In fact, by and large, we protect ourselves. We carry out our own observations most of the time; we restrain others long before any possible offences are brought to the attention of police officers. Self-discipline and intercommunity discipline are all.
Our leaders are responsible for creating the false notion that the police are our saviours and that without them we will all be consumed by evil. This exaggeration of who the police are and what they can and cannot do encourages officers to puff out their chests and strut their stuff arrogantly, always boasting that they are indispensable. And the more we elevate bad social behaviour into crimes, the more we will seek refuge in the arms of the boys in blue. But the plain fact is that they need us more than we need them.