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London police plead not guilty in death

The Associated Press   

LONDON- London's Metropolitan Police pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges stemming from the death of a Brazilian man who was shot last year after officers mistook him for a suicide bomber.

Jean Charles de Menezes, 27, was shot seven times in the head by Scotland Yard anti-terror officers as he sat aboard a train at a subway station in south London on July 22, 2005.

Two weeks earlier, four suicide bombers had attacked London's transit system, killing 52 people. The day before de Menezes was shot, four other men attempted similar attacks that were thwarted.

No individual officer was charged in the case. Instead, the force as a whole faces charges under health and safety legislation. Prosecutors charged the police under the act because officers allegedly endangered the public's safety during the operation.

Lawyers for the department entered the plea at a hearing at City of Westminster Magistrates Court. The next hearing will be at the Central Criminal Court on Jan. 16.

"The decision to defend the case has been reached after the most careful consideration. It is not about diminishing the tragedy of Jean Charles de Menezes' death," the Metropolitan Police said in a statement.

"We see it as a test case, not only for policing in London, but for the police service nationally. It also has implications for the general public in that it concerns the ability of the police service to protect the public at large when carrying out armed operations," police said.

The police also said they question whether the health and safety legislation is the appropriate vehicle "for evaluating the actions of an emergency service in relation to decisions made during fast-time, life-at-risk anti-terrorist policing operations."

Britain's Crown Prosecution Service decided in July not to charge any individual officers in connection with the shooting. If convicted, the department could face an unlimited fine.

The charge alleges that the force "failed to conduct its undertaking, namely the investigation, surveillance, pursuit and detention of a suspected suicide bomber, in such a way as to ensure that the person not in its employment (namely Jean Charles de Menezes) was not thereby exposed to risks to his health or safety."

The force faces a fine if convicted of the health and safety charge.

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