Monday, August 22, 2005

Bliar

It was bad enough that an innocent man (note that - 'innocent man') was killed in a botched 'arrest' operation. Painful as it is, when armed police officers make a mistake, it will be a big one, so we can hope that their planning takes into account as many of the risks as possible. Operational errors will always occur - information is never complete and is often wrong and confused when decisions have to be made.

Within 24 hours, the Met were confirming that Jean Charles de Menezes was entirely unconnected to any terrorist events and were apologising left, right and centre. To then have the man's character villified over a week by 'senior police sources' - because negative briefing to the press carried on when there was little doubt that he had done nothing wrong in the walk from his flat to the tube train - no breathless chase through London streets, no 'French Connection-style' leaping onto the train. He wasn't wearing a thick jacket, he wasn't 'wired up', he didn't resist arrest, he didn't 'vault the barriers' - he just happened to have the misfortune of living in the same block as somebody suspected of involvement. Mind you, the eyewitness testimony reported at the time wasn't much better and this is straight after the event with memories clear in their minds.
Talk Politics deconstructs the Blair case fairly effectively, but he didn't note a headline I saw over the weekend which claimed that the 'Gold Commander' in overall charge of the strategic operation had ordered that the suspect be taken alive. Curious, then that although the surveillance team following him did not regard him as a threat - as we know from their leaked statements and from the photographic evidence - he wasn't carrying anything, nor was he wearing anything like an explosive waistcoat. As they had some time to observe him and we can assume that they would have had covert radio communications, it would seem likely that this assessment was given to the senior commanders. In that case, why was the arrest team ordered to go in as hard as it did? This was reminiscent of the 'hard arrests' practiced against IRA terrorists, when significant resistance is taken as a given. Or is this new information just another attempt to deflect any blame from the Met senior officers and put all the pressure on the front-line firearms officers who have to make the split second decision whether or not to fire. That decision is informed by the information they received before they entered the station, so again, questions need to be asked about the quality of intelligence available. To be fair, the atmosphere after 7 and 21 July was more febrile than I have ever known and that tension works for trained coppers as much as it does for ordinary folk.

I don't want Ian Blair to resign because of the operational errors, but because he allowed his senior staff to tell outright lies to the public, through the media, about a dead, innocent man who was our guest in this country. Blair must have known that the press were getting information from inside the Met, but he did nothing to stop it, nor to comment against it, choosing to hide behind the IPCC investigation that he tried to stall, even after it was clear that there was no terrorist link to the shooting.

The shooting was bad enough, but the handling of the aftermath has been disgraceful - calculated to throw enough mud at the character of de Menezes to ensure that most people would take the 'no smoke without fire' approach and not question the police any further.

Do the decent thing Sir Ian - go and go quickly.

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