And in more recent times........
But far from carrying out his detention, they callously shot him dead in such an appalling manner that Amnesty International and other civil rights groups demanded a judicial public inquiry. At the inquest, coroner John Burton also called for an inquiry but the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, refused, and none has ever been set up.
The young man was shot six times by two officers from Scotland Yard’s tactical firearms group, SO10. O’Neill was semi-clothed, unarmed, and attempting to open the door to the police when he was assassinated. His two companions in the hotel, Brian McHugh and Patrick Kelly shouted, ‘We give up – we are unarmed’ when the police attacked. They recall hearing the police shouting, ‘Shoot the f...er’ as they opened fire on O’Neill, who had his hands raised.
A police officer was seen standing with his foot on O’Neill’s head as he lay dying before being dragged bleeding and mortally wounded down six concrete steps to the street. He was denied immediate medical treatment for 25 minutes although an ambulance was at hand. O’Neill subsequently died in hospital. The raid was a total disaster and had a chilling resonance last year when London police pumped eight bullets into Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes whom they mistook for a suicide bomber at Southwell Tube Station.
In preparation for the capture of Diarmuid O’Neill and his companions, police were shown video footage of the aftermath of the Canary Wharf bombing and told that the men in the hotel room had hand grenades, explosives and weapons, even though the video bugging made clear this was not the case. The police were provided with the most potent form of CS gas, ‘Rip’, which had never been tested properly and they were unaware of the consequences of using the gas. Indeed, not only were O’Neill and his friends affected, all but two of the police raiding party were overcome by fumes seeping into the corridor.
The raid was marked by a litany of errors. The special key the police brought to open the door would not fit so they used an electronic battering ram which, instead of knocking down the door, merely put a hole in it. The officer in charge, overcome by the CS gas, stayed outside with a fit of vomiting. The recording device, installed in the suspects’ room, gave a clear idea of what then happened.
Two policemen ordered Diarmuid O’Neill to open the door, after they made sure Brian McHugh and Patrick Kelly were down on the floor. O’Neill complied, telling the officers several times that he was unarmed. When he managed to prise the door open, he was shot three times in the abdomen and lower spine. He received another three bullets as he was falling. A post-mortem showed a bruise on his scalp that the pathologist said ‘probably resulted from an individual treading on his head’. In the wake of the shooting, one of the officers commented that Diarmuid O’Neill was ‘dead as a f...ing rat’.
The British and Irish media reported that during the arrest an exchange of gunfire took place and that explosives had been found. At the inquest two years later, such details were revealed as lies.
After two years of investigation, the Metropolitan Police produced a report, never made available to the public, which exonerated the police officers of any responsibility for the killing. It concluded that the officer who shot O’Neill acted in self-defence, describing him as a ‘capable and good chap’.
Amnesty International sought an impartial inquiry on the basis that an unarmed man had been shot dead while reportedly complying with police orders to surrender. The organisation was also concerned at the use of a very potent CS gas, which made nearly everyone at the scene sick. They also denounced the denial of vital medical aid to a severely injured man and were concerned at the misinformation fed by the authorities to the media. They warned that the shooting of the young man would result in further unlawful killings and that this made the need for an inquiry all the more important. The execution of the innocent Brazilian shows how right they were.