Page last updated at 23:58 GMT, Monday, 22 December 2008

Menezes: The woman who leaked the story

By Fergal Keane
BBC Radio 4: Taking a Stand

Lana Vandenberghe
Lana Vandenberghe leaked documents relating to the Stockwell shooting.
It started as a job to earn some money while "seeing Europe".

But then Brazilian man Jean Charles de Menezes was shot.

And as files passed across secretarial worker Lana Vandenberghe's desk at the Independent Police Complaints Commission in London, she began to feel that facts of the case were being misrepresented - or not presented at all - to the public.

Her decision to take a stand and leak the story to the press would contribute to the pressure on the then Met Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair to resign, but did it also undermine the IPCC?

When she tries to analyse her decision to leak sensitive documents about the police shooting of Mr de Menezes in July 2005 Lana Vandenberghe looks back to her experience in childhood.

Raised in a small farm town in rural Alberta, Canada, Lana grew up with an abiding dislike of secrets.

"My family were notorious for not coming out with happenings that were going on within our own house," she explains. When her parents announced they were divorcing after 28 years of marriage it came as a complete surprise to Lana. "I mean, we had no idea there was even a problem," she adds.

Learning the truth

Lana Vandenberghe was working as a secretary at the Independent Police Complaints Commission when she came across documents contradicting the police version of the shooting.

Jean Charles De Menezes

I think the impact of everyone learning the actual truth was… well you could just cut the air with a knife. We actually stopped and had a moment of silence for Jean Charles

Lana Vandenberghe

Interviewed for BBC Radio 4's Taking A Stand programme, Ms Vandenberghe says that video evidence and documents she saw shortly after the shooting called into question police claims that Mr de Menezes had fled from officers and that he was wearing bulky clothing which could have concealed a bomb.

Describing how staff at the IPCC had been shown video of Mr de Menezes entering the Stockwell underground station as well as the bloody scenes of the aftermath of his killing she says:

"There was dead silence, absolute silence. I think the impact of everyone learning the actual truth was… well you could just cut the air with a knife.

"We actually stopped and had a moment of silence for Jean Charles. We had a moment of prayer for him."

Over a period of weeks Ms Vandenberghe photocopied documents and used her own camera to photograph police photographs which had been submitted to the IPCC as part of its investigation.

She copied the photographs after hours when the office was empty.

"I realised I'd left my travel card at the office, so I had to go back to the office to get it.

"And I always carried my camera with me - because I did go into the tourist mode while I was living there [London] - and I just thought, 'Well, these could be quite important'.

"So I started taking some photos of the photographs of Jean Charles. And when I finished, I went home and copied them and put them on a disc and I just kinda held onto them."

Coping with the fallout

Her decision to leak the documents to Independent Television News caused a political storm.

Fergal Keane
Tuesday, 23 December 0900GMT
On the morning after the story was broadcast Ms Vandenberghe went as usual to the IPCC offices. "Oh, it was very scary. I had butterflies in my stomach. And I went into the office. Of course it was all abuzz.

"One person I heard saying: 'Boy, the person who released this stuff was really selfish, the person who released this must have made a whole lot of money.'"

She stresses that she never sought, was offered, or received any payment for the story.

After a few days Ms Vandenberghe was called to an interview about the leaking of the material with the Director of the IPCC, and a representative each from Human Resources and her trade union. To most questions she replied: "I don't remember."

Soon afterwards police arrested Ms Vandenberghe, as well as the ITN journalist involved and his girlfriend. She was a friend of Ms Vandenberghe and had set up the contact with ITN.

No regrets

Although she was held in police cells for a day and questioned, no charges were ever brought against Lana Vandenberghe or the others arrested. However, she lost her job at the IPCC.

In her Radio 4 interview she says the IPCC hired her without asking her to sign the Official Secrets Act.

She also insists that she was right to leak, saying that she believed "politics" would have prevented the truth coming out.

Asked if the IPCC had given her any reason not to trust its investigation she replies: "For the most part no, but... it was an assumption that I made and I… and just from what I've seen in my life experiences, you know I just… I just didn't feel that I could."

De Menezes Family
The family of Jean Charles de Menezes thanked Lana Vandenberghe.
When it is put to her that her action damaged the IPCC at a time when the organisation was struggling to establish its credibility with police, government and those who had brought complaints against the police, Ms Vandenberghe replies:

"No, I don't think so. I think it might have tightened their belt buckles a little bit; and knowing full well that they don't want this to happen again, they know they have to be and remain fair."

She also describes meeting with the family of Jean Charles de Menezes.

"A lot of tears and they couldn't stop thanking me for what I'd done. In fact they called me their 'guardian angel'. And it was a fantastic day."

Fergal Keane's interview with Lana Vandenberghe is broadcast on Taking A Stand on BBC Radio 4on Tuesday, 23 December at 0900 GMT. Listen live or catch up on the BBC iPlayer.

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