Few individuals or organisations have emerged with any dignity out of the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes in Stockwell almost five years ago. The Met Police remain blameless; The Independent Police Complaints Commission came across as a spineless body, with attempts made to silence the two inquiries. Sir Ian Blair presented the image of a bumbling commander in chief, with little or no authority.
How uplifting then to find on the occasion of what would have been the 32nd birthday of the Brazilian electrician, the de Menezes family united in South London to unveil a permanent memorial to Jean Charles. On a bitterly cold Stockwell winter morning, the emotion and dignity of Vivian Figueiredo, the cousin who lived with Jean Charles in Tulse Hill, was a truly moving occasion.
It is testament to the resilient campaigning by the family that Stockwell now has such a beautiful mosaic in remembrance to Jean Charles, designed by local artist, Mary Edwards. Following the hours of the shooting, a make shift shrine was in place outside Stockwell tube. This grew by the day, and then month-by-month, as the memory of Jean Charles was kept alive in South London.
The local Costcutters was very accommodating in allowing the shrine to remain as the months became years. Transport for London has been understanding, if not supportive. Initial requests for a plaque to be placed on the platform where Jean Charles was shot were turned down.
The family and friends continued each week, attending the shrine, lighting candles and offering a place of reflection for the events that changed my little patch of South London for good, some five summers ago.
And so on the coldest day experienced in Stockwell since the shooting of Jean Charles, a sizable crowd of family, friends and supporters gathered outside Stockwell tube to witness the unveiling of the de Menezes memorial.
TfL compromised in allowing the mosaic to be placed on the exterior of Stockwell tube. The wording of the mosaic, declaring INNOCENT in prominent letters, captures the mood of locals – unlike Lambeth Council which ordered the painting over of a mural of Jean Charles, only months following his death.
The speech by Vivian ahead of the official unveiling was emotional and celebratory. This was an incredibly brave moment for a young lady who has dedicated the past five years of her life in keeping the memory of her cousin alive.
I am personally incredibly proud that my local community now has a place to honour an innocent victim on the crazy, and ultimately failed, War on Terror.
And so what now for the de Menezes family? The memorial is only part of the story. As Vivian explained to me after the mosaic was revealed, the struggle for justice for Jean continues.
A global incident from Stockwell’s past now has a permanent reminder on show for all. It’s a shame that it has taken five years for the official sanctioning of the shrine. The sense of commitment and unity experienced outside Stockwell tube on Thursday morning suggests that the struggle has only strengthened the continued search for justice.