London police chief stands by shoot-to-kill policy
Australian Broadcasting | September 16, 2005
Britain's top policeman has defended his force's shoot-to-kill policy for suspected suicide bombers, as he came face to face with relatives of an innocent Brazilian man his officers shot dead.
Three cousins of electrician Jean Charles de Menezes watched as Sir Ian Blair, the head of London's Metropolitan Police, gave evidence to politicians.
Mr de Menezes's relatives later said they were "horrified" to learn that the shoot-to-kill policy remained in place.
The influential all-party Home Affairs Select Committee questioned Sir Ian and Interior Minister Charles Clarke at length about the official response to the London bombings in July.
On July 22, police shot Mr de Menezes repeatedly in the head at a London Underground station after he was mistaken for a suicide bomber in circumstances which are still being investigated.
The incident came a day after a seemingly failed wave of suicide bomb attacks on subway trains and a bus. Two weeks before, 52 people and four suicide bombers were killed in a near-identical set of attacks.
The presumed July 7 bombers were later identified as Muslim British nationals.
Sir Ian says his force is "extremely sorry" for Mr de Menezes's death and is determined to find out what took place.
But he defends the shoot-to-kill policy.
"There is no question that a suicide bomber, deadly and determined, who is intent on murder, is perhaps the highest level of threat that we face and we must have an option to deal with it," he said.
"We reviewed it [the shoot-to-kill policy] just after July 22. We made a small number of administrative changes but the essential thrust of the tactics remains the same."
Alessandro Pereira, 25, Vivian Figueiredo, 22, and Patricia da Silva Armani, 31, all cousins of Mr de Menezes, listened to Sir Ian's testimony but refused to meet the police chief afterwards.
"He [Blair] offered through the family liaison officer to speak to them to make his apology in person. That was politely declined," a Metropolitan Police spokesman said.
The cousins called for the shoot-to-kill policy to be suspended immediately.
"We are horrified to know that the shoot-to-kill policy is still in operation today," they said in a statement.
"The death of Jean shows that this policy is a danger to innocent people all across the country.
"It remains a secret policy, a policy that nobody knows how it operates, a policy that has never been discussed in Parliament."
Earlier, Interior Minister Mr Clarke warned the committee that Britain faced a long-term threat from "nihilist" terror gangs.
Asked how long he expected the terrorist threat to endure, he said: "I would not like to put a time period on it.
"The fact is that we have what I would call a nihilist terrorist threat, something that will only be beaten by demonstrating it cannot succeed."
Unlike terrorists in Northern Ireland who had "a specific political ambition", the suicide bombers who struck the British capital had no clearly definable aims, Mr Clarke said.
"But I do believe we will get to a state of affairs where we have demonstrated that we are simply not going to be shifted from defending our societies," he added.
Mr Clarke said "hundreds" of terrorism suspects were being monitored.
"There are certainly hundreds of people who we believe need to be very closely surveyed because of the threat they offer," he said.
The Minister rejected criticism by rights groups of planned government deals with Middle Eastern and North African countries allowing terrorist suspects to be returned on the understanding they will not be maltreated.
"Some say that the memoranda of understanding aren't worth the paper they are written on," Mr Clarke said.
"I think that is guilty of some latter-day colonialism in the way they approach such governments."