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Errors led London police to kill Brazilian - court

LONDON (Reuters) - “Shocking and catastrophic” blunders by London’s police force led to the killing of an innocent Brazilian man, shot dead on a train by officers who had mistaken him for a suicide bomber, a court heard on Monday.

Alex Pereira (L), a cousin of Jean Charles de Menezes, the Brazillian mistakenly shot by British police, arrives with friends for the beginning of the trial against the Metropolitan Police at the Old Bailey, London October 1, 2007. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

Jean Charles de Menezes, 27, was gunned down as he boarded an underground train in south London on July 22, 2005, by officers who had wrongly identified him as one of four men who tried to attack the London transport system the day before.

The botched suicide bombings, just two weeks after four young British Islamists killed themselves and 52 people on three underground trains and a bus in the capital’s worst peacetime attack, had sparked a frantic manhunt by British police.

“The disaster was not the result of a fast-moving operation going suddenly and unpredictably awry,” said prosecutor Clare Montgomery, describing the shooting as “a shocking and catastrophic error”.

“It was the result of fundamental failures to carry out a planned operation in a safe and reasonable way.”

Mongomery said police had put the public at risk by allowing a man suspected of trying to bomb the capital’s transport system the day before to get on buses and into an underground station.

The rare corporate case against London’s Metropolitan Police Service was brought after prosecutors decided last year there was insufficient evidence to charge individual officers involved in the operation, to the fury of de Menezes’s family.

Police are accused of breaching health and safety laws. The force denies the charges.

De Menezes, an electrician, happened to live in the same block of flats as Hussein Osman, one of four men jailed earlier this year for plotting the unsuccessful July 21 attacks.

The officer in charge of the hunt for the failed bombers had ordered that people leaving the address should be followed and stopped nearby, Montgomery said.

A surveillance team arrived at about 6 a.m. on July 22, but it took about four hours for a specialist firearms unit, who would actually detain any suspects, to arrive at the scene.

At about 9.30 a.m., de Menezes left home and was followed by surveillance officers who allowed him to travel on two buses and then to Stockwell station, where he boarded a train.

Armed police, who were rushing to intercept him after senior officers wrongly became convinced he was Osman, got on board. The Brazilian was pushed into his seat and two officers shot him seven times in the head and once in the shoulder.

Police have apologised for the shooting and say it was the tragic result of officers being under enormous and unprecedented pressures.

The trial is due to last six weeks and if found guilty the police force, which said such a verdict would severely hamper its counter-terrorism work, faces a large fine.