Two days ago, my family gathered at Stockwell tube station at 10am, as we have every year since 2005, to mark the exact moment when my cousin Jean Charles de Menezes was killed by the police. Jean was shot seven times in the head by officers while sitting in a tube carriage, on his way to work.
Despite two lengthy reports by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, an Old Bailey trial that found the police guilty of “catastrophic errors”, and an inquest verdict that found the police lied about the circumstances that led to Jean’s death, no officer has been held accountable.
This year as we gathered, our hearts were also with Ian Tomlinson. Everybody knew the decision on Ian’s case was due and there was a sense of unease. We knew the sickness and anxiety Ian’s family would be feeling after waiting such a long time, and that they would still be hopeful for justice even after the bitter disappointments they have faced.
We wondered about the significance of the CPS choosing the fifth anniversary of Jean’s death to make its announcement. We dared to hope that it would use this date – such a painful reminder to us of injustice – to do the right thing by another family. We thought the CPS would announce a decision to prosecute.
So when we heard no officer would be charged for the incident that led to Ian’s death, an already difficult day was burdened with more deep sadness. But we were also worried about the future. Because every time a police officer is allowed to get away with a criminal act it gives the police force as a whole a sense of entitlement that they are above the law and increases the chances that similar deaths will occur. The CPS decision spoke volumes about the brazen dismissive attitude of the state towards accountability for deaths in custody. To release their decision on the five-year anniversary of Jean Charles death was like sticking two fingers up at us all and saying “we don’t care what grieving families or the public think, we’ll do what we want and you can’t stop us”.
But we can. And one day we will. For this reason our message to the Tomlinson family is, don’t give up. Don’t accept the police’s lies, don’t accept the CPS’s cowardice or the Independent Police Complaints Commission’s ineptitude. The coming years will be hard, we cannot pretend they won’t be. Perhaps harder than today when the media and public eye is on you. There will be times when you are just left alone with your feelings of injustice having exhausted the legal avenues and political processes. And in that moment you will want to know that you did everything within your power to get the truth out about what happened to Ian, and to challenge the idea that police officers are above the law. Nothing will bring Jean or Ian back to life, but by fighting you can keep Ian’s memory alive and help to stop this kind of tragedy happening again.
And to the public we say this. We could not have come so far in our campaign without you. Every email, letter, telephone message gave us strength to carry on in those difficult days. The Tomlinson family need your support today. We urge everyone who felt outraged about the death of Jean Charles and the death of Ian Tomlinson to take those feelings of injustice and translate them into political action. Write to your MP, support the Ian Tomlinson Family Campaign, organise events in your community to discuss the issues of police accountability, write to the press, act and act now. Together we must put an end to the culture of police impunity which corrupts our justice system.