Boarding a tube train whilst Brazilian hasn’t yet been established as sufficient reason to be lawfully killed, but Sir Michael Wright, the coroner in charge of the inquest into the death of Jean Charles de Menezes, has at least ruled that shooting dead a passenger going about their every day business on public transport is not “unlawful.”
The case for abolishing coroners has been made even stronger by the shocking case of Harry Stanley. Harry was shot dead from behind by police officers as he walked home from a pub carrying a repaired table leg in a carrier bag.
The coroner at the inquest last week was Dr Stephen Chan, who was for 10 years a forensic medical examiner for the Metropolitan police. The case was a grotesque illustration of the coroner’s omnipotence: the coroner decides who gives evidence, he decides what investigations will be carried out, he leads the questioning of the witnesses and he tells the jury what verdicts they can bring in.
Dr Chan turned down an application for an independent forensic expert to give evidence about the Stanley shooting. He ruled out a verdict of unlawful killing, leaving the jury with a choice between “lawful killing” and an open verdict. Their unanimous open verdict was a slap in the face for the police — and for the coroner.
When a senior police officer blurted out that Harry Stanley had criminal convictions, Dr Chan ordered them to be read out. Tim Owen, QC for the Stanley family, pointed out that the police sharpshooters had said they had no idea who they were shooting, and that any previous convictions were irrelevant. Dr Chan told the barrister to sit down, observing: “Your objection is noted.” Also noted, replied Mr Owen, “is your inability to give a ruling.”
Irene Stanley, Harry’s widow, has been waiting for an inquest for three years. She left the court utterly disgusted with the coroner. “I came here for justice,” she said, “but didn’t get a sniff of it from him.”
Paul Foot The Guardian, June 26, 2002
Of course, in the Stanley case, a second inquest did come up with a verdict of unlawful killing — but it was overturned in the High Court.