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25 August 2005 Edition

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Shoot-to-Kill is nothing new

By

FERN LANE

As any observer of the conflict in Ireland will have noticed, the shooting of an innocent Brazilian at Stockwell Station in London bore the hallmarks of many killings by British forces in Ireland.

Firstly there was the use of what can only be described as frenzied, lethal force when it was utterly unjustified. This was followed by a campaign of misinformation and straight-up lies to blacken the name of the dead and justify the killing. Then there was the disappearance of vital forensic and other evidence and attempts at the highest level to undermine and obstruct the legitimate inquiry into the death.

After the shooting the London Metropolitan Police promoted the idea that victim, Jean Charles de Menezes was somehow responsible for his own death. When it became apparent that the shooting was not, as was initially said, "directly connected" to the bombings of 7 July, the lie machine swung into the action. De Menezes' behaviour was "suspicious". He was wearing a "bulky jacket on a hot day". He "ran away" when ordered to stop by police, and vaulted a ticket barrier before running down the escalator. They believed he was about to detonate a bomb.

These were all lies and the Met knew it. The lies were in the national media and the Met did nothing to rectify them and ignored the distress of the de Menezes family.

There was collusion from elsewhere within the machinery of the British state. The Home Office lent a hand in the attempted blackening of de Menezes' name in a particularly squalid fashion, releasing a statement to the media "confirming" that de Menezes' visa had expired sometime previously, as if that could possibly have any bearing on the case.

The truth about what happened only emerged because of the decision of a Met staff member to leak incriminating documentation to the media. The whistle-blower, rather than being congratulated, was vigorously hunted down and, unlike the killers of de Menezes, has been suspended from duty and is facing legal action. Had it been left to its own devices, the Met would simply have continued with the lies. Already we have seen the customary activities associated with cover up.

Just as shocking as the campaign of lies around de Menezes is the insistence that he is the first victim of a new Shoot-to-Kill policy, introduced as a response to suicide bombers. Shoot-to-Kill has been an integral part of the British state's response to perceived threats for a long time. That includes the Met, who were engaged in Shoot-to-Kill when they murdered both IRA Volunteer Diarmuid O'Neill and Scottish man Harry Stanley. Stanley was shot dead in a London street by police officers when he was mistaken for an Irishman.

What is new, however, is any kind of admission that such a policy exists. For the entirety of the conflict in the North of Ireland from Bloody Sunday onwards, the British Governments and their allies in the media denied that state forces operated a Shoot-to-Kill policy and engaged in a campaign of vilification against victims of state violence.

They did this after Bloody Sunday. They did it after the extra-judicial killings of Seán Burns, Eugene Toman and Gervaise McKerr in South Armagh in 1982 and then again a fortnight later when Michael Tighe was killed, destroying the tapes of a bug which would have exposed them. They did it in Gibraltar, with a truly vicious campaign to discredit witnesses who told the truth about what happened. They did it when they rammed Pearse Jordan's car before shooting him in the back.

The murder of Jean Charles de Menezes has, quite properly, caused outrage in Britain and across the world and has, again quite properly, focused intense attention on the activities of the police. It makes one wonder, however, why there was not a similar response to the murder of Harry Stanley who, like Jean Charles was totally unconnected with any war which the British state believed it was involved in and who was killed in very similar circumstances. Equally, why were the British media and public not outraged by all the British state killings in Ireland over 30 years?

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