Strange timing for Commissioner's departure
IT could have seemed to a passing overseas visitor as though political protest in Britain had achieved a fantastically speedy result. For six days, entering the Oval cricket ground which is the incongruous setting for the Jean Charles de Menezes inquest, one was likely to encounter a couple with a placard saying Sir Ian Blair must Go!
And on the seventh day, it was the news vendors' placards which announced that Sir Ian, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, had gone. Not as a result of the protests of course, nor of the inquest, which is expected to have another three months to run. Tory London mayor Boris Johnson, having become chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority, had made clear he wanted Sir Ian out, and though it is properly speaking the Home Secretary's prerogative to tell Britain's top police chief to go, on the day Boris Johnson took his chair, the Commissioner announced his resignation. He has until December 1 to clear his desk, and his deputy will temporarily take over.
The news came through on the day after Detective Chief Inspector Jon Boutcher, a senior Anti-Terrorism squad officer in the control room at New Scotland Yard on July 22, 2005, the day Jean Charles de Menezes was killed, had given evidence. Answering questions from Michael Mansfield QC, acting for the de Menezes family, on how Jean Charles, wrongly identified as a terror suspect, was pursued into Stockwell umderground station by firearms officers, and shot dead, DCI Boutcher said the same thing could happen again.
One question hanging over this affair from the start has been why police made no attempt to detain the subject near his home, which was under surveillance, and why - particularly if they believed he might be a suicide bomber - he was allowed instead to travel on public transport, and go down to the tube. Another concerns the false claims that Jean Charles had behaved suspiciously, and the Met's initial unwillingness to even admit they had killed the wrong man.
Responding to questions from Michael Mansfield, DCI Boutcher claimed to have been told on the morning of the operation that surveillance officers had positively identified a "suspect" leaving flats in Scotia Road, Tulse Hill, although in fact the officer, "Frank" had only said the person leaving was worth a second look. Police records from the time show he was referred to only as an "unidentified male".
In fact the failed suicide bomber Hussein Osman whom the police were supposedly after was nowhere near Scotia Road, or Stockwell . He had gone to Brighton, later taking the Euro-star to Paris, and was eventually detained in Rome.
DCI Boutcher denied having known exactly where police units were during the operation. He also claimed not to have been aware that Jean Charles' wallet, containing his identification, was found on the seat next to which he was killed. With the TV news telling of Sir Ian Blair's resignation, we saw a clip of Sir Ian announcing at a press conference that day in 2005 that the police had killed a known terror suspect.
It was as if the police had decided to kill a "terrorist", and then having killed an innocent man, they decided that he would have to do.
People have been saying for some time that Blair, like his namesake in Downing Street at the time was a B-liar. That might have been good cause for the Commissioner to resign, despite the loyal backing he received from people in the Labour Party, and notably then Mayor, Ken Livingstone. But why now? Was his resignation anything to do with the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes, or has that provided a misleading diversion from other causes?
Jean Charles' relatives have issued the following statement:
The Menezes family is shocked by the news of Sir Ian Blair's resignation, as it comes in the middle of the inquest into Jean's death. As head of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Ian Blair should have been ultimately accountable for the death of Jean Charles de Menezes. We believe he certainly bears responsibility for the lies told about Jean and the cover up by the police in the aftermath of the shooting. He even tried to stop the IPCC investigating our cousin's death. The lack of accountability of the country's most senior police officer is one of the most shocking aspects of this tragedy.
For Sir Ian Blair to state that he has resigned 'not because of any failures or pressures of the office' therefore reinforces our belief that he and the Metropolitan Police still refuse to accept full responsibility for Jean's death.
For the family, Sir Ian Blair resigning does not change anything. Our focus is on the inquest where we hope we can find out the whole truth about Jean's killing. We await the verdict and findings and hope it will bring us closer to justice and for steps to be taken to ensure that no other family has to suffer the anguish we have over the last three years.
Reactions to Blair's resignation show an unprecedented tangle of politics surrounding the Metropolitan Police command. Brian Paddick, a former deputy assistant commissioner who stood as Lib Dem candidate for mayor of London, said that Home Secretary Jacqui Smith was also instrumental in Blair's departure. He told the BBC "On the day the mayor becomes the chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority he says boo and the commissioner jumps.
"Not only that, it is actually only the Home Secretary that could force the commissioner to leave and therefore the Home Secretary could have turned round and said to Ian Blair and to the mayor: 'I'm sorry, you don't have the power, mayor, to do that. I want the commissioner to stay.' But she didn't; she allowed the commissioner to go."
Paddick made his name as the most senior openly gay police officer, and for promoting a liberal policy on drug use - particularly cannabis - along with with his efforts to gain trust from young black people when he was commander responsible for policing in Lambeth.
Ken Livingstone claimed that there had been a vendetta against Blair from the first day of his commissionership."The decisive voices were not those who criticised him from the left but those who want an end to what they call 'politically correct' - that is, non-racist – policing in London."
The Blair resignation follows rows in the police force itself over accusations by leading black and Asian officers that racialism is still endemic among white colleagues.
Meanwhile, back at the Oval, jury and observers were still mulling over responses by Detective Chief Inspector Boutcher to questions as to what went wrong in the operation which resulted in the death of Jean Charles de Meneses.
"I am not sure anything did actually go wrong", replied DCI Boutcher.
Asked then whether there was a real risk that it could happen again, the officer replied:
"There is, Sir, yes."
The inquest continues.
"Justice4Jean blog on the Inquest: http://inquest.justice4jean.org/
Labels: Police and terror