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2006-03-08

British Journalists Face Pressure from Police After Revelations on Menezes Shooting

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Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is visiting Prime Minister Tony Blair on Thursday. The two leaders are expected to discuss the shooting of Brazilian native Jean Charles de Menezes in London last summer. Menezes was shot dead by British police in a London subway station one day after an attempted bomb attack on the British subway system in July. We speak with Deborah Turness, editor of British channel ITV News, about the circumstances surrounding the shooting and the investigations. [includes rush transcript]

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is in London this week for a three-day state visit. Last night he attended a royal banquet at Buckingham Palace and is scheduled to meet British Prime Minister Tony Blair for talks at Downing Street on Thursday. The two leaders are expected to discuss the shooting of Brazilian native Jean Charles de Menezes in London last summer. Menezes was shot dead by British police in a London subway station one day after an attempted bomb attack on the British subway system in July. At first, British police said they believed Menezes was a suicide bomber. They claimed he had run from police and was wearing a bulky jacket. But since then it has been revealed that he was innocent and that police lied about the circumstances of his death.

Menezes family have repeatedly demanded the resignation of the Metropolitan Police commissioner, Sir Ian Blair. They have requested a meeting with President Lula who has yet to decide whether to see them during his London visit. Lula’s visit comes as the Crown Prosecution Service considers whether to charge police over the shooting.

Earlier today the Association of Chief Police Officers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland publicly defended their policy on using lethal force against suspected suicide bombers, despite the killing of Menezes.

  • Deborah Turness, editor of British channel ITV News, that exposed the first internal police report in the Menezes case. Democracy Now! caught up with her at a media conference in Doha, Qatar.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Last month, Democracy Now! spoke with Deborah Turness, editor of the British channel ITV News, that exposed the first internal police report in the Manezes case. We caught up with her at a media conference in Doha, Qatar.

DEBORAH TURNESS: It was in the wake of the London bombings on the 7th of July last year, when four men blew themselves up on three tube trains and a double-decker bus, and they killed over 50 people and maimed many, many more. Exactly two weeks after that atrocity, there was another attempt by suicide bombers to blow themselves up on tube trains and on a bus, but that time those four men had a problem: their bombs didn’t explode. And so, the whole plot backfired and they went on the run. During the manhunt for those men who disappeared into the ether in London somewhere, the police shot dead a man at a tube station, who they say they believed was a potential suicide bomber. They had followed him for a couple of miles. They had been keeping his apartment under surveillance. And they shot him dead seven or eight times at point blank range on a tube train. He had no chance.

In the wake of the shooting, the police put out information saying that he was wearing a puffy jacket, and it was the middle of the summer, thus suggesting potentially that he was carrying some kind of a bomb. They said that he ran away, that he jumped the barriers at the tube station, that he was behaving suspiciously. And it turned out very quickly that all of these facts as presented by the police were entirely wrong and that it was they who had messed up, and they had shot dead an entirely innocent man.

We found out the truth of this, because we obtained a copy of a leaked report that was done into the shooting. In the U.K., the moment somebody is shot dead by police, the Independent Police Complaints Commission come in immediately, and they start compiling a report. It was only a few day into the compiling of that report that we received the early leak, which actually showed that it was a series of police blunders. They hadn’t identified him properly. The man who was supposed to be on is surveillance had gone to take a leak and wasn’t even at his station. There were lots of miscommunications. And so, we put out that story, and in the wake of doing so, we have faced pressure from the police. We have been a subject of an investigation. One of our journalists has been arrested and is facing potential action.

AMY GOODMAN: Arrested on what grounds?

DEBORAH TURNESS: Arrested as part of the investigation over how we came to get hold a copy of the report.

AMY GOODMAN: How did you get it?

DEBORAH TURNESS: I’m not at liberty to talk about that. It’s extremely sensitive at the moment, and I really can’t talk any more about it.

AMY GOODMAN: As we flew through London to come to be Doha, we saw the headlines about a police cover-up. What is that about?

DEBORAH TURNESS: Well, basically, the report, the early copy of which we were leaked, has now been finished and completed and given to various government departments, and that has again been leaked. And it turns out that if the leaks are true, that the officers in charge of surveillance actually falsified the documents in which they recorded their actions of that day. Now, they’re perfectly at liberty to amend documents. At the end of an operation, they go back over it, and they say, 'Well, we were right/we were wrong,' but they have to actually note where they’ve added stuff in. But they actually changed the essence of what they did, and in their original draft, they said that they had not identified him as a terrorist, and then later they went back and put it in that they had identified him as a terrorist. And so, it all got a bit messy.

AMY GOODMAN: What is the family demanding now?

DEBORAH TURNESS: The family wants truth and justice. The family wants those who shot dead their son, wrongly, to be brought to book, and they want to see a full legal process take place. They want someone to pay for it.

AMY GOODMAN: And what has been the response of the British people?

DEBORAH TURNESS: I think it’s mixed, to be honest. I think while many people are outraged and horrified that an innocent man can be shot dead on a tube train in Britain, there is also a sense that this was a difficult time for the police. They were hunting for would-be suicide bombers, who at any time could have just blown themselves up. And I think some people do actually have sympathy for the police and feel that actually they were doing their best to protect us, and they got it wrong, and mistakes do happen.

AMY GOODMAN: I also wanted to ask you about how the British press cooperates with the government. If you could explain, especially to an American audience, this is, I think, probably a new word, the D-Notice.

DEBORAH TURNESS: Yes. There’s a thing that exists and has existed for many, many years in Britain called a "D-Notice." And the D-Notice is something that is put out to the media when the government would like us to not broadcast or transmit information that would be — would potentially jeopardize national security or the security and safety and lives of individuals. The kinds of places and times when it’s used would be, two weeks ago, there was a story from Russia, alleging that British spies had been spying on Moscow, and they, the Russians, named those individuals, and the British authorities asked us not to use their names, because by exposing them we could be putting their lives in danger.

AMY GOODMAN: But if they were exposed already, what difference would it make if the Russians were already — that’s who would do anything, if anyone would.

DEBORAH TURNESS: Well, because by putting their names out there more into the public domain will be increasing the risk that more people will know who they are and may act, but your point is well made. Yeah, once it’s out in Russia, if they are going to face some kind of jeopardy, then it’s going to be from the people more locally, one would imagine. D-Notices are also used to protect the identity of S.A.S. officers working in the fields. Yeah, the Special Air Service, the boot boys of the British military who go into the most dangerous places, they’re the ones that went in on the Iranian embassy siege. They were active in Afghanistan, and we filmed, in many instances, their faces, and we were asked to blur the faces because it would be a problem to identify them.

AMY GOODMAN: And what about this most recent exercise, that they asked you to be quiet about?

DEBORAH TURNESS: Well, it was a fictitious exercise replaying the events of Beslan in a northern college in the United Kingdom.

AMY GOODMAN: Beslan being the place that was laid siege to in Russia?

DEBORAH TURNESS: Yes, when all the school children were killed, when the Chechen rebels took over the school and laced it with bombs, and then the Russian army went in and the whole thing blew up, killing many, many, many children. And clearly, the British government wants to be on the front foot and wants to play out such scenarios in the U.K. to look at how we would actually deal with it. And in this fictitious scenario, there was a moment when the army were on their way to the location up the motorway, and the guys coordinating the media from the government side realized that we would all have choppers up and that we would be able to see this. So they discussed using a D-Notice to ask us not to report the fact that the army was on the way, because they know the terrorists would be inside monitoring media online, getting all the information they needed, and it would obviously jeopardize their operation.

But, in fact, somebody smart in the operation said, "No, let’s not put out a D-Notice, because it’s not just BBC, Sky and ITV News that are here. It’s also Al Jazeera, and if Al Jazeera get wind of the fact that we’ve put out a D-Notice, not only will they report the fact the tanks are on the way, they will also report the fact the British government has asked for it not to be reported." And so, they didn’t. And in this instance, in this fictitious scenario, they actually individually approached the British media and said, "We would rather you didn’t report the fact that the army is on the way," hoping that perhaps Al Jazeera and others wouldn’t actually get to know about it in time.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you experiencing a crackdown in the British press right now?

DEBORAH TURNESS: No. I don’t think so. I think at times, and particularly at times when we were approaching war with Iraq, the government were incredibly active in trying to control what we said and what we did. But I think that’s pertinent, you know, it’s on a story-by-story basis. I believe that things are getting harder and harder for governments all over the world, because events in London and Madrid are linked to events in Afghanistan and Pakistan and Iraq. And you’ve not only got the global problems to deal with, but you’ve also got the home-grown terror network that we saw the results of on the 7th of July. And, therefore, I do think they have to tread very carefully. But they also do need to have certain controls. But I don’t sense that there’s a greater crackdown, as such.

AMY GOODMAN: What about on leakers? You’re the ones that are being leaked to, but, for example, Katherine Gunn who leaked a memo, and most recently this whole issue of the new Downing Street memo — did President Bush say to Blair that Al Jazeera here in Doha should be bombed? — and now, the British government cracking down and saying any outlet that publishes the actual memo will be punished and, of course, indicting, charging the men involved with the leak of the memo that they say doesn’t exist.

DEBORAH TURNESS: Well, you know, my colleagues at Channel 4 News got hold of the Attorney General’s advice on the war, whether or not it was legal. It was a document that we were always told we couldn’t have access to. We were actually told at one point that it didn’t even exist. But I think that if we believe something is in the public interest, we have to publish it. If we know the story to be true, if we know the leak to be correct, if we’re handed a piece of paper or we obtain a piece of paper that tells our audience something they need to know, then I think we have to just go with it.

AMY GOODMAN: And more specifically, the Attorney General’s memo, what did it say?

DEBORAH TURNESS: Well, it definitely suggested that he had small qualms about the legal case for war than was previously suggested by Tony Blair and the rest of the government. And therefore, it was incredibly important for people to know about it. And in my view, as I said, today here, there are ethical checks and balances, there are regulations and rules, there are laws, which surround us whichever way we turn, but there is always a way forward. If you’ve got an important story that has to be told, and it’s called public interest, and in the interests of the public, we have to override those rules and laws whenever we see fit, even if it means we or our journalists will face prosecution, because if we know what we are doing to be right, we know we have a legitimate defense. And that’s the thing to make sure that your case is solid and that you can defend yourself when you do end up in the dock potentially.

AMY GOODMAN: Deborah Turness of the British ITV News, speaking to us recently in Doha, Qatar.

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