A month after a lengthy, high-profile inquest pored over the details of a death that brought into pin-sharp focus the British authorities’ response to the threat posed by Islamic terrorism on our shores, this gripping factual drama tells the story of the catalogue of errors that led police to fatally shoot Brazilian electrician Jean Charles de Menezes after mistaking him for failed suicide bomber Hussain Osman.
Based on the evidence given during the criminal trial and inquest, the hour-long programme recreates the actions of the police surveillance and firearms teams in the hours leading up to the innocent 27-year-old’s death.
Directed by Jonathan Rudd, the dramatic narrative pieces together a comprehensive account of the mistakes and confusion that led to the wrong man being followed, then killed.
Thoroughly researched, the film is a carefully constructed, faithful representation of the facts with many scenes shot in their real-life locations, including inside Jean Charles’ flat in Lambeth, south London. Where necessary, some events have been simplified and elements of dialogue created for purposes of dramatisation.
The film is also interspersed with news and CCTV footage of the July 7th bombings and the failed July 21st attack on the underground, as well as radio phone-ins that illustrate the backdrop of panic and fear against which the police operation was carried out.
The programme opens on the Stockwell Tube with the sound of screaming and chaos. As undercover police officers charge into a waiting train, people can be seen running from the carriage.
As the scenes unfold, the voiceover reads out Justice Richard Henriques’ verdict at the 2007 criminal trial into the incident where the jury concluded that the Metropolitan Police failed in their duty during the police operation immediately preceding the fatal shooting. He does not blame any individual but determines that this was a corporate failing with a number of failures contributing to the tragedy.
The programme then flips back to July 21st, 2005 when four men tried to detonate rucksack bombs on three separate tube trains and one bus. They fail in their task but all four men escape sparking a massive police manhunt.
Forensic officers work through the night, examining the part-exploded bombs for any clues. In one rucksack, they find a gym membership card belonging to Hussain Osman and over the next two hours they track this card to an address on Scotia Road.
Woken in the middle of the night, Commander McDowall takes charge of the operation and orders that a surveillance team monitor the building and a separate firearms team challenge and stop everyone leaving the premises at a safe distance. Commander Cressida Dick will oversee the operation from the control room, and be the senior officer to authorise shooting the terrorist if intelligence suggests they’re about to launch a deadly attack.
At 6:04 am on the July 22nd, surveillance Red team arrives at Scotia Road and discovers that the address has nine flats and a communal entrance, which means dozens of people could be coming in and out all morning. Red team, who carry weapons only for self-protection, expect the firearms team to arrive at any minute to be ready to stop anyone that resembles the suspect.
There is a bus stop very close to the property and surveillance officer Derek is concerned that anyone strapped up with explosives could come out and jump straight on a bus. He radios the control room to ask for the buses to be stopped from travelling down that route.
Unbeknown to the police, the terrorist Hussain Osman is not inside – he has fled the city. But in a flat directly below the suspected address, lives Jean Charles de Menezes, who we see getting up in the morning and getting ready for his day.
As the action continues, the programme gives a blow-by-blow account of how the mistakes then begin to unfold on all fronts. The assigned firearms team does not come on duty until 7am and by the time they have kitted up and been briefed twice, hours have gone by. As people start coming out of the Scotia Road address, they are not yet on the scene to stop and question them.
As Jean Charles comes out of the building, the one surveillance officer in direct line of sight is urinating into a bottle and fails to get a decisive look at him or film footage of him for ID purposes. They believe it’s possible he could be the suspect but can’t make a positive ID. Another surveillance team, Grey, who are brought in for support, also have only the very blurry gym membership photo of Hussain Osman and no details on height, weight or clothing. Not all of their team take the photo with them.
The problems continue with radio equipment interference contributing to the confusion.
Commander Cressida Dick takes the decision not to stop the buses as this might alert the terrorists to the police operation. And Jean Charles boards a bus.
The programme continues to follow Jean Charles’ journey and further miscommunication and mistakes create an atmosphere of confusion. The surveillance teams never positively identify that Jean Charles is the failed suicide bomber, but the firearms team believe they hear confirmation over the radio that he is the suspect.
Ultimately, the action leads to the heart-pounding final scene – the moment that firearms officers board the train at Stockwell tube station and shoot an entirely innocent man seven times in the head.
No order to shoot-to-kill was ever given by Commander Cressida Dick. Reports that Jean Charles wore a bulky jacket, jumped over the barriers and refused to comply with police orders were all untrue.
Seven days later, the real terrorist, Hussain Osman, was arrested in Rome. He was later jailed for 40 years for his part in the attempted bombings.
Wednesday, 21 January 2009, 9:00PM – 10:00PM ITV