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Met chief defended amid raid row

NEDRA PICKLER / AP | June 12 2006

Metropolitan Police Authority chairman Len Duvall has defended police commissioner Sir Ian Blair amid growing calls for his resignation.

Sir Ian is facing mounting criticism after a raid by anti-terrorist police on a house in Forest Gate, east London.

Mr Duvall said questions over the raid remained but insisted it had not undermined his confidence in Sir Ian.

London mayor Ken Livingstone said claims of political interference in the raid also needed to be answered.

Resignation calls

It comes after several newspapers called on Sir Ian to resign over the weekend.

Damian Hockney, another member of the Metropolitan Police Authority, which scrutinises the London force, has also said it is time for Sir Ian to go.

He told the Guardian newspaper his position as Metropolitan Police Commissioner was not "sustainable".

Hundreds of people took part in a protest outside Scotland Yard on Sunday, calling the arrests "unbelievable".

And the solicitor for the two brothers arrested during the raid told the Observer they planned to sue the Metropolitan force.

Mohammed Abdul Kahar, 23, and Abul Koyair, 20, were held for a week on suspicion of terrorism involvement but released on Friday without charge.

Mr Kahar was shot and injured during the raid, which police said followed "specific intelligence" of a terrorist threat.

Mr Duvall, who has asked for a police report into the raid, said questions needed to be asked about the quality of the intelligence behind it and why 250 police were involved.

But he said he did not believe Sir Ian had misled the public over the raid.

He said: "At this moment in time, Sir Ian Blair and his management team enjoy the confidence of a substantial majority of the police authority and the government and the mayor of London.

"I think what most people in London want is not to have senior officers of the Met diverted by some of these issues."

Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee John Denham told the BBC he too still had confidence in the Met chief.

"If he is held personally responsible for the shooting in Forest Gate through some failure or activity, or if he's held personally responsible for the shooting [last July of Jean Charles de Menezes] then clearly he's in serious difficulty - but aside from those two risks I think he's actually doing a good job leading the Met and should stay."

'Shoulder to shoulder'

London's mayor, meanwhile, wanted assurances the police had not been bullied into carrying out the Forest Gate raid.

Mr Livingstone told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I haven't been specifically briefed about this, but... I read in The Observer that the police expressed reservations and this went up to Sir Richard Mottram in the Cabinet Office and they were then told to go in.

"This is very worrying indeed, because I think Londoners are prepared to accept that the Commissioner of Police has the right to initiate these sorts of raids, has the power and responsibility.

"We have always worked on the basis that they are free from political interference. I can't tell Sir Ian Blair what to do. He has complete operational freedom," the mayor said.

He added he had confidence in Sir Ian and dismissed complaints over his decision to deploy 250 officers for the 2 June raid.

It was an operational matter for police to decide how many officers were required, he said.

A senior security source told the BBC MI5 and the police had stood "shoulder to shoulder" over the decision to raid the house.

This followed claims police had doubts about the intelligence but were told to go ahead with the raid after it was referred to the government's security and intelligence co-ordinator, Sir Richard Mottram, BBC home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw said.

A spokesman for Tony Blair said the prime minister continued to give his full support to Sir Ian.


'Catalogue' of blunders

Sir Ian came under fire on another front over the weekend after the News of the World said he would be criticised by the official inquiry into the shooting of Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes in July.

A leaked copy of the Independent Police Complaints Commission report blamed Sir Ian Blair for a "catalogue" of blunders, the newspaper reported.

Both the Home Office and the Metropolitan Police have refused to comment on the claims.

But policing minister Tony McNulty said Sir Ian was currently "entirely safe" in his job.

Tory leader David Cameron said Sir Ian was "having a difficult time" that it would not be fair to damn him on the basis of a leaked report".

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