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Thursday, March 09, 2006 

de Menezes: Is Ian Blair being set up as the fall guy?

Today's report in the Guardian further deepens the whole culture of secrecy which has surrounded the inquiry into the death of Jean Charles de Menezes. On the surface, the point being made seems simple enough: that Sir Ian Blair did indeed know more earlier than he has ever let on about the man's death.

An official inquiry into the Stockwell tube station shooting has received evidence from senior police officers raising questions about Sir Ian Blair's account of the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes and its aftermath, the Guardian has learned.

The commissioner of the Metropolitan police has repeatedly said that he was unaware that the victim was not a suicide bomber until 24 hours after the Brazilian was shot on July 22 2005, a day after several attempted attacks on the London transport system by terrorists. But several witnesses have told the Independent Police Complaints Commission inquiry that senior officers feared within hours of the shooting that the wrong man had been killed after being mistaken for a terrorist.

The witnesses, who were inside Scotland Yard's headquarters on July 22, have told the IPCC that on the day of the shooting planning and discussion took place based on the assumption that an innocent man had been killed.

Mr de Menezes was killed on a tube train at around 10am on Friday, July 22, by officers who believed that he was a terrorist who had tried to attack London's transport system the day before. But one senior police source told the IPCC that by that afternoon, top officers were working on the assumption that "we got the wrong person ... we better plan around this being a mistake." Another source inside the Met's headquarters that day said every senior officer he spoke to believed that Mr de Menezes was not a terrorist: "I don't know how Ian could not have known."

The IPCC will now assess if the accounts from the witnesses are accurate and can be reconciled with Sir Ian's assertions and any evidence backing him.

Around midday on July 22, Sir Ian tried to block the IPCC investigation, writing to the Home Office to say that he feared an inquiry would hamper the hunt for the bombers. Just after 3.30pm that day, Sir Ian addressed a press conference and told reporters: "This operation was directly linked to the ongoing terrorist investigation ... the man was challenged and refused to obey police instructions."

Then you start wondering about the whole thing. I find it very difficult to believe that the officers who shot de Menezes didn't know within minutes, let alone hours, that they had killed an innocent man. No doubt they would have quickly relayed their concerns to the higher-ups, mostly likely Cressida Dick to begin with. Why else would the witnesses on the day give such wrong accounts of what happened to the media, unless they were either Met plants or paid off by the police? This seems even more likely when you consider witness statements to the actual IPCC report, which were a lot more accurate when it came to what actually happened.

While Sir Ian Blair's response to the shooting was to try to stop any inquiry, there is no indication as of yet that he did so in anything but good faith, honestly believing that the hunt for the failed bombers would be much more important than an inquiry into the shooting of what he then, according to his own account, believed was one of the bombers. We can argue about the merits of doing so, but there's nothing to suggested that he was doing so to stop the truth from coming out. Why else would he have gone out at 3:30, 3 and a half hours later, if he already knew that an innocent man has been killed? Even if efforts by other sections of the police were taking place to cover up the shooting, as evidenced by the "witnesses" and Special Branch forging of the record of what happened, there is nothing other than the words of these sources to show that Ian Blair lied.

So why would Sir Ian Blair be set up as the fall guy for the mistakes of the officers lower down his command? Even before his recent gaffe over the Soham girls, when he said no one could understand why they had received such coverage, there had been reports that a lot of officers within the Met felt he was a politically correct idiot. While the former Met commissioner John Stevens was not a man of old school, his News of the Screws column (calling for capital punishment for police killers and for tougher sentences for burglars, especially after one went through his wife's underwear draw) shows that he was by no means a liberal. There seems to be a fair amount of people within Scotland Yard who want him out, and they may well have seen the IPCC report into his own behaviour as a possibility to fulfill their plan.

This isn't to say that Ian Blair is innocent in all of this. It seems officers below him knew quite well that an innocent man had been murdered well before he apparently did. Either they weren't keeping him informed and he is outside the chain of direct command, or he knew and has been lying from the very beginning. I find the latter difficult to believe, especially when it seems that he's a lot smarter than to be involved in a hasty cover-up which would be unraveled within 24 hours. He is still responsible for the Met not correcting the witness reports to the media, and for the Met's own original mistakes in saying that the man had refused to obey police instructions. As the head, he is still also responsible for the whole process, as described by one source as a "complete and utter fuck-up". This doesn't necessarily mean that he should resign because of those colossal errors, which must now be learned from. It seems to me that the lower chains of command are those that made the most hideous and heinous mistakes, and may well yet be exposed for making the decision to kill someone who turned out to be an innocent man as a message to the tabloids that the police really were taking action.

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Hopefully, taking out one Bliar will help take out another... (looks out for whistle-blowers)

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