A fair few bloggers have now called for the resignation of Metropolitan Police Chief, Sir Ian Blair, as a result of the information contained in the documents leaked, this week, to ITN…
…and some haven’t mentioned it all; not even a letter in the Grauniad from their number one bogeyman, George Galloway, castigating the Police for their failings has managed to drag a comment out of Harry’s Place.
With all due respect, the one thing I haven’t seen, as yet, is anyone fully articulate the case for Blair’s resignation. Feelings are, quite naturally running high at the moment, so there’s no criticism intended there, I merely note an omission from the debate which I intend, here, to try to correct.
Why, exactly, should Sir Ian Blair resign?
To understand the reasons in full we need to go back to the time-line of this incident and understand what happened and when, and then examine why certain things are likely to have played out in the way they have.
Jean Charles de Menezes (JCM) was shot dead on a stationary train in Stockwell Underground Station on the morning of the 22 July 2005.
Following this shooting a number of what were, supposedly, eyewitness reports appeared on the TV news, reports which contained a series of erroneous statements.
JCM was, so we were told, wearing a ‘heavy’ jacket which looked out of place on such a warm day.
JCM had ‘vaulted the ticket barrier’ on entering the station, while being chased by the Police.
JCM had run on to the train, tripping as he went through the doors, while being chased by three officers who then bundled him to floor, at which point he was shot several times in the head.
It was also alleged by one supposed eyewitness that wires had been seen protruding from his jacket.
We now know that almost all of this account of his final minutes was untrue.
JCM was wearing a standard Levi’s Denim Jacket not a heavy, unseasonal jacket at all.
JCM did not vault the ticket barrier, he went through the barrier as would any other passenger, using his Oyster card, stopped to pick up a free newspaper and walked to the platform. Only when he saw his train pull in did he run, and then only to catch the train – at no time was even aware that he was being followed let alone chased by armed Police.
JCM did not trip as he entered the train nor was he being chased, in the sense that was described to the media. He got on, looked both ways and then took his seat. Only after that was he ‘challenged’ by the Police, who called out only ‘Police!’ and gave no other instructions, a which point he got up an walked towards a surveillance office who, according to his testimony, grabbed in what was effectively a ‘bear hug’ and pushed him back into his seat – at which point he was shot be two other officers.
That, in a nutshell, is what actually happened and, in fact, some of the errors in the story put out be the media in the immediate aftermath of the shooting are easily accounted for.
The person seen wearing a heavy jacket and vaulting the station ticket barrier would have undoubtedly been a plain clothes police officer who was trying to catch up with JCM – this would have been a genuine mistake on the part of witnesses at the scene who would not have know who it was who actually jumped the barrier but who, on being told that a ‘terrorist suspect’ had been shot would have assumed the person they saw was JCM as what they saw would seem consistent with what they would expect from a suspect fleeing capture by the Police.
As for Mark Whitby’s story of JCM being chased on to the train, etc. the simple fact here is that he did not see the whole incident from the point where JCM entered the train – all Whitby saw was the last few seconds from the point where he was grabbed by the surveillance officer and has then filled in the blanks to account for what he ‘expects’ happened before that point.
The ‘protruding wires’ story is either a complete fabrication by someone who just assumed that the Police has shot a real terrorist who must, therefore, have had wires sticking out of his jacket or, its just as likely that if wires were seen they we merely the cables of a set of headphones – it has never been revealed whether JCM might have owned or worn a Walkman/MP3 player/IPod or something similar, a ‘hands-free’ kit for a mobile phone, perhaps.
Getting back to the time-line; at 4pm on that same day, Sir Ian Blair gave a press briefing, during the course of which he stated:
“This operation was directly linked to the ongoing terrorist investigation. Any death is deeply regrettable … as I understand the situation, the man was challenged and refused to obey police instructions.”
At this point in time, if the Police had not yet identified JCM then Blair may genuinely have believed this to be true as he would, in all probability, have been relying for his information, on second-hand reports from his operational commanders. It is possible, at this point, that he would have spoken directly to any of the officers involved in shooting or the surveillance operation inside the station.
However we also now know that Blair wrote to Charles Clarke, in an effort to prevent an investigation into the shooting by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), advocating, instead, that an internal inquiry be held instead, before this press conference.
The obvious question to ask here is that of what, exactly, did Blair know about the shooting at the point that letter was written? Were there already doubts as to whether they had actually shot a terrorist, or was Blair mere acting our of reflex – trying at the very least to buy time to allow him to get the full story before the IPCC got involved.
We may never find out and without evidence to the contrary, we have to give him the benefit of reasonable doubt and assume this to be a genuine mistake arising out of the incomplete information to hand at the time.
Moving to Saturday 23 July, at 5pm an anonymous spokeswoman makes the official announcement that the man shot on the previous day had no connection whatsoever to the terrorists the Police had been seeking and later on that evening idenitified him as JCM.
By this point, Blair must obviously know that something has gone badly wrong and even if, at this point, he had not been told the full truth then unless he was wholly derelict in his duties he would have ordered that full report be on his desk PDQ and would have, therefore, had a full and factual outline of the events leading to the shooting and the shooting itself, well in advance of the investigation being handed fully over to the IPCC on 27 July.
Blair would reasonably have known the full truth well in advance of the handover to the IPCC – if he didn’t at that point then he is clearly incompetent and unfit to carry out his job – there are no two ways about it.
At some point prior to 27 July, Blair has a clear choice.
With the IPCC taking over the investigation he can do one of two things; say nothing and allow the false media account of the shooting to stand uncorrected even though he knows it to be untrue in every significant detail; or he can issue a statement correcting as much of the erroneous story as possible without compromising the investigation.
A better man that Ian Blair might even have considered the diplomatic route out of this dilemma and, having made one or two corrections to the story, used the discrepancies as a basis to explain why the IPCC were being brought in to investigate the shooting.
As we know, he chose the first option and said nothing. In fact it appears that the Police decided to go along with the false story to the extent that the pathologist who carried out an autopsy on JCM on Wednesday 27th July was told:
“[Mr Menezes] was followed into Stockwell Tube station where he vaulted over the ticket barrier. He ran downstairs and onto a Tube train where it appears that he stumbled. The officers then immobilised him and a number of shots were fired.”
But could Blair reasonably have corrected any of the errors in the original media account of the shooting and the events leading to it without compromising the IPCC investigation?
I believe he could.
Clearly he would not have been at liberty to disclose the matter of the failure of the surveillance officer at JCM’s block of flats to make a positive identification because at the moment JCM left for work the officer was ‘relieving himself’. Nor, obviously, could he comment on the specifics of the actual shooting – the actual events that took place on the train after JCM entered it.
But he could have corrected two specific points without affecting the IPCC’s investigation; the matter of JCM’s jacket and, most critically of all, the false assertion that he had vaulted the ticket barrier while being chased by Police officers.
It is this last point, the matter of JCM’s passage through Stockwell Tube station which I believe explains both why Sir Ian Blair chose to say nothing and let a completely false account of the shooting continue to ‘do the rounds’ without correction and, most important of all, why he should now do the decent thing and tender his resignation.
This point is crucial because on it hinges the question of the whole decision-making process which led, eventually, to JCM being shot dead, who made that decision and the implications of that decision for the Police’s ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy.
If the story of JCM vaulting the ticker barrier were true, which we now know it isn’t, then the whole incident would have moved at such a pace that the decision to shoot him could ONLY have come from the officers on the spot and only their judgement can be called in question – things, in this version of event, would have moved so fast that there would have been no time for the firearms officers who made the shooting to confirm their orders with the Met’s operational command and this whole tragedy comes down to the question of a judgement call made by officers on the scene.
The role of senior officers and the shoot-to-kill policy is completely moot in this scenario as it could have had only the most limited bearing on this decision.
However, we now know that JCM did not vault the barrier at all, he acted only as any other ordinary passenger would have done and even paused to take a free newspaper, giving the officers at the scene ample time to relay the situation back to the Met’s operation command and receive confirmation from that level of the order to shoot him.
In this scenario, which we know to be the true sequence of events, the role of the Met’s operational command, of two very senior officers, one an Assistant Commissioner, and their interpretation and application of the shoot-to-kill policy becomes a central issue in this whole scenario – their judgement as well as that of the officers on the scene is now called into question.
We now know that JCM was allowed to leave home; take a five minute walk to a bus stop and ride the bus to Stockwell Tube station – all without being stopped and challenged.
We know that, on alighting from the bus, he walked into the station etc., seemingly shadowed all the way by surveillance officers – how else would they have been on the train at the same time as him without alerting him to their presence.
This is, again, where the vaulting the barrier story become important in a very different way. As noted earlier, if someone in a heavy jacket was seen to vault the ticket barrier, the most likely explanation for this was that this was one of the firearms officers trying to catch up with JCM. In fact JCM must have had a fair head start over these officers as clearly he was able to walk through the station, running only on the platform to get the train, without noting any commotion of the kind that would be caused by someone vaulting a ticket barrier to run after him.
This suggests that the firearms officers were either late in arriving a Stockwell tube station – its conceivable that if they were following the bus they could have got caught up in traffic and delayed just enough to give JCM the start needed to make it to the platform without noticing them – or they did not enter the station immediately behind JCM but paused outside until ordered to follow, by which time it was necessary to run to catch up with him.
The timing of events at the station does not fit the idea that this was shooting carried out on snap judgement by officers on the scene, it is more in keeping with with the armed officers having paused for confirmation of orders from the Met’s operational command – that they waited until the point at which JCM actually started to run across the platform for the train until moving in.
This places the role of the command officers in very different light, making their actions central to the shooting and calls into question the whole shoot-to-kill policy and how it was applied in this case.
One cannot reasonably believe that Sir Ian Blair, the most senior Police officer in the UK, would not have understood this distinction or the the implications that the real events of 22 July would have had for his senior officers had they been made public, and if that is the case, then Blair’s failure to correct key elements of the false story of JCM’s death, when he had a clear opportunity to do so has to be seen in a very different light.
There is a clear parallel, here, between Blair’s actions, or rather lack of action, and that of former Defence Minister, Geoff Hoon and the MOD following the crucial Parliamentary debate which saw the government gain approval for the 2003 Iraq war, which were made public during the course of the Hutton Inquiry.
To give a quick recap, the single most contentious element in the Joint Intelligence Committee report given to Parliament was the now infamous ’45 minute claim’ which suggested that Saddam Hussein had WMDs, either chemical or biological weapons, which could be deployed within 45 minutes.
This claim we now know to have been entirely false, however there was more to it than just the ’45 minute’ question – there was also the question of exactly what sort of chemical or biological weapons the government were referring to in this claim.
What was actually being referred to, although this was not explicit in the report, were ‘battlefield’ weapons, basically artilliary shells with a very limited range and usage. Although there is no formal definition of what a WMD really is, the common understanding of the term refers to weapons which can fired over long distances at civilian populations, causing the eponymous ‘mass destruction’ – battlefield weapons, including tactical nuclear devices, are not usually considered WMDs.
What happened on the following day was that, as the government may well have wished, the press on reading this dossier put two and two together and came up with forty-four. What the intelligence community had identified originally as limited range battlefield weapons now became, in the eyes of the most histrionic elements of the press, extended range SCUDS with chemical/biological warheads. The Sun ran with a front page which claimed that Saddam could attack British troop based in Cyprus, the Mail and the Express ran similar stories claiming that Saddam had the ability to attack, in one of these papers, Israel, and in the other, unspecified targets in Europe.
Hutton was unable to establish that any of the main players in the drafting of the dossier; Tony Blair, Alistair Campbell or John Scarlett, understood this distinction; however, under tough cross-examination Hoon was forced to own up that both he and the MOD understood it very well and when pressed as to why they made no effort to correct the press’s erroneous assumptions, stated that it was felt to be ‘too much trouble’ to try and correct the error. I’ll leave you to decide whether ‘too much trouble’ in this case meant ‘too much trouble to issue a statement and arrange a press briefing’ or ‘too likely to undermine a central plank of the government’s case for war’.
What the Hutton Inquiry demonstrated was that while the government were not inclined to correct media errors that worked in their favour, when the media – Gilligan and the BBC – got it wrong and it went against them, then it was not trouble at all for them to demand a whole series of corrections, retractions and apologies.
With that in mind, there seems to be little or no difference between Sir Ian Blair’s actions on this occasion and those of Geoff Hoon, as revealed by the Hutton Inquiry – in the case of the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, the press’s erroneous claims as to the events which preceded the shooting clearly work in Blair’s favour by keeping his senior officers out of the firing line and limiting the scope for serious questioning of the shoot to kill policy and it seem entirely reasonable to conjecture that this may readily explain why Blair chose not to make any corrections to an account that he knew, certainly by the point that the IPCC got involved, was completely wrong.
And it is for that precise reason that Blair must resign.
He may not have deliberately lied to the public. He may well be correct is stating that there is no cover up – the leaked documents do show that the officers involved in this shooting appear to have been completely open and candid in their statement to the IPCC.
None of that, however, matters.
What matters here is that Blair has said nothing in the matter of the entirely false account of the JCM’s death which has appeared in the press all over the world and offered not single word of correction of an account of events which he has known to be entirely incorrect for almost the last four weeks.
He has put the interests of the Metropolitan Police and, in particular, of senior officers and close colleagues, ahead of not only his own officers – those who were directly involved in the operation – and, of course, the public interest but most unforgivably of all, he has put those interests ahead of the legitimate interests of the family of Jean Charles de Menezes who, up until today, have wanted to know only the truth of the circumstances which led to the tragic death of a loved one.
That, by any reasonable terms, is inhuman, cruel and despicable in the extreme and that is why Blair must go!
Update: Sunday 21 August
Today’s Observer adds more to the story.
“Senior sources in the Metropolitan Police have told The Observer that members of the surveillance team who followed de Menezes into Stockwell underground station in London felt that he was not about to detonate a bomb, was not armed and was not acting suspiciously. It was only when they were joined by armed officers that his threat was deemed so great that he was shot seven times.
Sources said that the surveillance officers wanted to detain de Menezes, but were told to hand over the operation to the firearms team.
The two teams have fallen out over the circumstances surrounding the incident, raising fresh questions about how the operation was handled.
A police source said: ‘There is no way those three guys would have been on the train carriage with him [de Menezes] if they believed he was carrying a bomb. Nothing he did gave the surveillance team the impression that he was carrying a device.'”
“Members of the firearms unit are said to be furious that de Menezes was not properly identified when he left his flat, the first problem in the chain of events that led to the Brazilian’s death.
Specialist officers with the firearms team active that day had received training in how to deal with suicide bombers. A key element was advice that a potential bomber will detonate at the first inkling he has been identified. They are trained to react at the first sign of any action.
The Observer now understands that seconds before the firearms team entered the tube train carriage, a member of the surveillance squad using the codename Hotel 3 moved to the doorway and shouted: ‘He’s in here.’ De Menezes, in all likelihood alarmed by the activity, stood and moved towards the doorway. He was grabbed and pushed back to his seat. The first shots were then fired while Hotel 3 was holding him.”
This, again, raises questions about the role of the Met’s operational command officers in this whole incident – questions which, as I noted earlier, would have been avoided were it not for the leaked documents which called the whole account of the circumstances of JCM’s death into question.
It also seems to back up a suggestion I made in an previous post on this incident that the surveillance officer who tried to restrain JCM may have been trying to prevent him being shot by his colleagues from the firearms team, as why else would he – now identified as ‘Hotel 3’ – have effectively thrown himself bodily onto JCM.
The more we learn about what really happened on that day, the more the failure of the Met and of Ian Blair, in particular, to correct some of the erroneous stories which appeared in the press starts to stink to high heaven.
It still may not amount to a cover up – just, and only because the police appear not to have lied to the IPCC – but as outlined above, Blair has clearly tried to let things ride in terms of the public’s understanding of the incident, to suit his and the Met’s own interests.
Update(2): Sunday 21 August
Today we also learned that the Met has made an offer of £15,000 compensation to JCM’s family.
Forget the sum of money here – £15,000 is little more than they would receive from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board – the key thing to note is that the offer was made in full blown ‘legalese’ and, no doubt, drafted by a solicitor working for the Met.
We can, therefore, be almost certain that, at the very least, this offer would have had a few ‘strings’ attached to it; a waiver of the family’s rights to seek compensation through civil litigation for certain and some kind of ‘gagging order’ as, preventing them from making any negative comments about the police once the compensation offer had been accepted which would, at least, have given the police a legal basis for an injunction to prevent further press coverage of the family’s views.
All this BEFORE the IPCC has full considered and reported on the circumstances of their son’s death.
Before this week’s leaks the Met was faced with three obvious ‘points of difficulty’ in getting out of this situation with the minimum damage possible – three things which could derail their damage limitation exercise.
One, obviously, is the IPCC’s report, which they would be desperately hoping would put the whole thing down to a tragic but understandable ‘accident’, avoiding the possiblity of criminal charges for negligence being laid against serving officers, thereby dragging out the whole situation for at least a further 6-12 months after the conclusion of their deliberations and ensuring that the Met could not simply take a bit of flak from the press and move on, effectively burying the whole incident with no more than, at worst, a careful chosen ‘retirement on medical grounds’ to cover their embarrassment.
The second potential ‘flashpoint’ will of course be the coroner’s inquest which could return a verdict of ‘unlawful killing’ making it difficult, again, to avoid having officers face criminal charges. The Police, no doubt, will be pushing heavily for an ‘Open’ verdict or maybe on of accidental death to get them out of that particular hole – although one has to be very suspicious of the fact that the whole ‘jumping the barrier’ story turned up in the pathologist’s report on JCM, even thought the Police knew this to be false. This could be nothing more than simply them keeping to the media’s story to avoid a risk that the truth might emerge before the IPCC had finished its inquiry or, more worryingly, it could have gone on to form the basis of a ‘misadventure’ verdict at inquest which would ahve covered the Police’s collective backs even more effectively than either an open verdict or one of accidental death.
The third problem facing the police would be a civil claim against them by the Menezes family, which, due to the legal process of ‘discovery’ would drag the full story out into open court whether the police wanted it to or not. Had the family accepted the £15,000 offer and signed on the dotted line, this avenue might well have been closed to them completely and. again, most probably allowing the Police to ‘walk away’ from this whole situation having taken no more than a bit of short-lived flak and having ridden out the ‘storm’.
Again, we seem to have the Met’s interests being put before those of JCM’s family and the public interest and, yet again, it is inconceviably to think that Ian Blair would not have known about and, indeed, have authorised this offer.
And, again, we have another reason why he should resign.