British authorities announced
yesterday that no charges will be laid against police officers over the
killing last July of Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes, who was wrongly
identified as a possible suicide bomber. The Crown Prosecution Service
said there was “insufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect
of conviction against any individual police officer”.

However, charges will be laid against the police force itself under two sections of the Health and Safety at Work Act for “failing to provide for the health, safety and welfare” of Mr de Menezes. A police spokesperson said
they were “concerned and clearly disappointed” at this decision,
although it can hardly be disputed that shooting someone dead is highly
prejudicial to their health, safety and welfare.

The health and
safety prosecution may allow some of the facts of the Menezes case to
be aired in court, but its value as deterrent will be essentially zero.
Corporate accountability (whether government or private) means no
accountability: even if the police force is fined for its negligence,
the taxpayers will foot the bill.

Members of the de Menezes family attacked
the failure to prosecute as “shameful”, and promised to keep pursuing
the issue. But despite the tragic mistakes and subsequent cover-up in
the Menezes case, the prosecutors are probably right to conclude that
murder or manslaughter charges could not be made to stick. The simple
truth is that juries won’t convict police officers, even when the case
against them seems iron-clad – as in, perhaps most famously, the Rodney
King beating of 1991.

Listen carefully at this point for the
deafening silence from the usual “tough on crime” politicians, tabloids
and talkback hosts. Here’s a real failing of the justice system, where
wrongs will go unpunished and the streets (or at least the subway
stations) may be less safe as a result. But does anyone care?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey