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Friday, July 28, 2006 

Adding insult to injury.

You sometimes have to wonder whether the Met realises just how obnoxious its actions actually are, as their ignorance seems to know no bounds. Following on from the CPS decision to only prosecute the force on health and safety grounds over the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, they've publicly announced that the two firearms officers involved his death are back on "full operational duties". Whether this means they'll rejoin their colleagues in CO19 and potentially be called as a rapid response armed unit, we're not told.

This shouldn't necessarily cause a problem or be potentially offensive to Jean Charles's family. Yet the decision comes before the Met has concluded whether they should face any disciplinary action and not even a week after the Grauniad revealed that the two officers had lied to the IPCC, in another leak from the otherwise currently indisposed report. It therefore comes across as a snub, not only to those who remembered de Menezes's life last Saturday, but also to the IPCC and CPS for daring to suggest that the Met has a case to answer.

"Sir" Ian Blair fully illustrated the contempt with which the Met is treating the various investigations on what happened and went wrong on the 22nd of July last year yesterday. He said:
"This goes right to the heart of the policing mission, mandate, the nature of risk-taking and the nature of assessing risks beforehand. I am not sure that was the design of the legislators in 1974 and it will be a matter that the courts will have to decide because the implications for everyday policing will be very significant."

Blair is right on one thing: the decision to prosecute on health and safety grounds is a horrible fudge which serves little purpose and helps absolutely no one. Even so, Blair's whine about the nature of risk-taking is pretty rich. From what we know so far, it was numerous errors on the behalf on nearly all those involved in the operation on the 22nd that led to an innocent man being shot. He wasn't properly identified; he was allowed to get on and off a bus without being stopped; the firearms squad only reached Stockwell tube after Jean Charles had entered the station; Cressida Dick, the woman in charge, was hopelessly vague in her orders: she claims she only wanted the officers to stop and arrest de Menezes; the officers took her "stop him" and possibly added "at all costs" to mean to shoot him dead; and even then he had been tackled and would have been unable to trigger any explosives when he was shot repeatedly in the head. Adding insult to injury, officer/s later tried to change the log to make it look as if they had concluded he wasn't one of the suspects, smeared de Menezes repeatedly and Blair himself tried to stop the investigation from starting straight away, possibly destroying evidence and hampering efforts to establish what went wrong from the very beginning. It wasn't de Menezes that put himself at risk; it was incompetent, panicked policing that did.

Thankfully, not everyone involved with the Met has been so dismissive and resistant to the possibility that things went horribly wrong. Richard Barnes, a member of the Metropolitian Police Authority was yesterday both outspoken and eloquent:

"Is there no one within [the Met] with the moral fibre and sense of personal obligation to recognise that Jean Charles's fate was sealed by systemic failure?" he asked. "The power to exercise ultimate force carries with it the responsibility to ensure all other possible alternatives are exhausted, even in such a fast-moving, fluid situation. Those obligations were not fulfilled at Stockwell, and Jean Charles paid the ultimate price for that failure."

He added: "I find it repugnant, and an affront to common decency, that the establishment can get it so wrong and then close ranks to protect its members from accepting and exercising the obligations of office. It is simply not enough to accept the glittering prizes, whilst ignoring the failures. Where is the man of personal stature and integrity amongst them?"

Mr Barnes, who is the Tory policing spokesman in London, said the shooting was followed by "various leaks that intended to besmirch his [Mr Menezes'] character. The source of this information is questionable, but it most probably came from those in authority. An innocent man was shot dead, and it was thought appropriate to traduce his character."

Could anyone have put it any better? At the moment, instead of reading the report that would tell us just how badly the operation went and how things could be improved in lieu of a similar situation, we're instead told with no apparent humility that the officers who shot dead an innocent man are returning to work, doubtless unlikely to face any further action against them. I don't doubt that they themselves have most likely suffered, having to deal with the fact that they shot a man dead who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, but the decision seems to be rubbing Jean Charles's relatives face in it. In a week in which it's been revealed that the investigation into the death of Stephen Lawrence was affected by corruption as well institutional racism and incompetence, you'd think that they give a bit more thought into their public relations exercises. That seems as much of a pipe dream as ever.

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