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Police chief faces new claims

London Guardian | August 19 2005

Sir Ian Blair publicly defended the shooting dead of a man at a tube station despite senior police officers already believing that there was a significant likelihood that the wrong man had been killed after being mistaken for a suicide bomber.

The Metropolitan police commissioner gave a press briefing just after 3.30pm on the day Jean Charles de Menezes was shot dead, on the morning of July 22 at Stockwell station, south London.

Separate sources have told the Guardian that by the afternoon of the shooting, senior officers had strong suspicions that the man killed was not a terrorist or connected to attempted attacks on London the previous day.

At his press conference Sir Ian told reporters: "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."
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This week police have come under heavy criticism for alleged false statements and for failing to correct damaging allegations in the media about the victim. Some of the vitriol has been personally directed at Sir Ian.

The commissioner has also been criticised over his attempt to stop the Independent Police Complaints Commission from investigating the shooting.

But last night the IPCC was embarrassed after one of its staff was reportedly suspended over the leaking to ITV News of witness statements from the investigation into the Brazilian's death and pictures of his body in the carriage.

Last night the IPCC said: "Both the IPCC and the Metropolitan Police Service recognise that the unauthorised disclosure of information cannot be ignored and must be addressed. We are in discussion with the MPS on this.

"In response to media speculation on IPCC staffing issues, we do not comment on personnel matters. We will not be distracted from our thorough, professional and impartial investigation into the death of Mr de Menezes."

Mr de Menezes came under suspicion after he emerged from a block of flats police believed housed terrorist suspects.

The doubts among senior officers may not have been known by all of the Met's elite, because of the size of the organisation and because of the speed of events on the day of the shooting, which was coupled with a race against the clock to find failed suicide bombers before they attacked again.

Later that afternoon - at 4.30pm - a senior officer close to the terrorist investigation, said police were pretty sure the deceased was not one of the four bombing suspects but "the guy has come out of an address of interest, was tailed by a surveillance team on to a bus and into an underground station, where a decision was taken to effect a 'hard stop' with S019 [the firearms unit]."

Asked if the man was challenged and refused to stop, he did not disagree. That officer said: "The man shot dead is not one of the four we're looking for but he is believed to be a terrorist suspect." The man was yet to be identified.

The next afternoon police announced they had shot the wrong man and apologised.

A senior Met source said he was sure Sir Ian did not know officers had shot an innocent man when he gave the press conference: "Ian probably talked too much out of a desire to give reassurance but he would never have said what he said if he'd thought this was an innocent man. Absolutely not."

Last night Scotland Yard refused to comment on the extent of Sir Ian's knowledge at the time of his 3.30pm press briefing.

Asked if the commissioner had known there were serious doubts about whether the right person had been shot or a high likelihood the wrong person was shot, a spokesman replied: "The IPCC has taken over the investigation into the fatal shooting in Stockwell and it would be inappropriate for the Metropolitan Police Service to comment further while that investigation remains ongoing."

Yesterday Sir Ian used a newspaper interview to hit back at media critics accusing him of a cover-up over his decision to try to stop an independent investigation into the shooting.

Sir Ian rejected claims that his attempted blocking of the IPCC was part of a cover-up by saying: "It is important that Londoners hear this: if you were going to define how to do a cover-up you would not write a letter to the permanent secretary of the Home Office, copying it to the chairman of the Metropolitan Police Authority and the chairman of the IPCC."

Yesterday the IPCC met lawyers for the Brazilian's family, to try to stop their confidence in the investigation dwindling further.

Solicitor Gareth Peirce said: "What we have asked the IPCC to find out is how much is incompetence, negligence or gross negligence and how much of it is something sinister.

"One of the things we asked the IPCC to investigate is: are there lies that have been told? Who told them?"

Ms Peirce said her main concern remained why the independent body had not been called in immediately to begin their inquiry.

 

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