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Thursday, November 22, 2007 

A complete failure to find anyone accountable.

Ian Blair then seems set to continue as the head of the Metropolitan police, at least for another two and half years, upon which his current contract expires. It's anyone's guess as to whether it would then be renewed.

I don't think it can be overstated that, as it stands, absolutely no one has personally been found culpable for the systemic failures that culminated in an innocent man losing his life on that morning, in the most dreadful, vicious and reprehensible of circumstances. This isn't about being vindicative or demanding a scalp just for the sake of it; someone, in this case Sir Ian Blair, is ultimately responsible for what went wrong on the 22nd of July 2005, and then subsequently the behaviour of the Met as a whole right up to today.

If, instead of reacting in the way that the Met did, they had come out within a matter of hours of de Menezes being shot, come clean and said there's been a terrible tragedy, we're incredibly sorry, and we'll immediately let the Independent Police Complaints Commission investigate what went wrong and learn from its recommendations, all of the unpleasantness of the last two years could have been avoided. Instead, within an hour of de Menezes being shot dead, Ian Blair himself had written to the prime minister urging him to stop the IPCC from being allowed to investigate because of the "unique circumstances" of the time. As the first IPCC report stated, if Blair himself hadn't tried to halt their investigation, all of this could have been sorted out far sooner.

What followed from there was blatant lies, obfuscation and smears. The police, despite knowing full well that de Menezes had not been wearing a bulky jacket and that he hadn't leapt the barrier, allowed those details to become stated fact without putting the record straight. It's hard not to come to the conclusion that this was deliberate when you consider what followed: the leaking that he had overstayed his visa, as if this made a jot of difference to the fact that they had shot dead an innocent man, then later that a woman had accused him of rape, which when he was cleared of involvement in was hardly reported. If the IPCC investigation hadn't been leaked, there's the possibility we wouldn't have learned the truth of what happened for months more. The leaker responsible had her door broken down at dawn for her trouble.

Then, in the biggest and most outrageous insult of all, de Menezes was further smeared at the health and safety prosecution trial. A photograph comparing Menezes with Hussein Osman was according to a prosecution witness manipulated to make the obvious differences between the two less distinct, while Ronald Thwaites QC, in his closing argument wove a tale which directly contradicted evidence that the jury had heard, claiming that de Menezes didn't comply with officers who challenged him when he never was challenged, that he had behaved suspiciously when he had in fact acted like any other commuter would have done, and that Menezes might have "thought" he had drugs in his pocket which could have accounted for the way he acted, even though he didn't have any and didn't act out of the ordinary.

Sir Ian Blair could have pleaded guilty to the charge, especially when the prosecution case was so compelling. Instead, as the force today openly puts on its website, it's asked lawyers to consider whether it was in the public interest to contest the charge, and then whether an appeal is possible. Rather than learning from its mistakes, under Blair the force is still intent on challenging the actual facts of what happened on that morning. The document (PDF) itself only demonstrates the arrogance with which the lawyers responsible for the Met's woeful defence view their arguments, and shows their contempt for both the jury and the judge. Choice parts are:

9. Although the jury’s verdict is impenetrable as to precisely what they accepted and what they rejected of our defence, the judge made it plain at the conclusion of his summing-up that it was sufficient for the jury to make a finding against us on only one of the nineteen allegations in order to convict. It therefore does not follow from the fact of conviction that the jury accepted all of the prosecution’s allegations, or that we were found guilty of even one “catastrophic” failing as the prosecution labelled our shortcomings: a description which the judge did not adopt in his sentencing remarks.

This is what is called being in denial.

11. We knew and acknowledged that this was always going to be a difficult case in which to secure an acquittal. There was always a significant danger, as we think in fact came to pass, that the central issues would be obscured by too close a focus on the tragic outcome (which was not of itself a necessary element of the prosecution’s case), and that the jury would be unable to divest itself of hindsight and emotion fuelled in part by uninformed and adverse reporting before and during the trial.

How they came to such conclusions as these is anyone's guess. Rather than them not being able to rebut the case, built around the IPCC's report, it's all down to the jury's hindsight and "emotion". The part about the "uniformed and adverse reporting" is classic: the Met did everything it could to spin the coverage their way, lying, smearing and not correcting those "uninformed" reports, yet the guilty verdict is partly a result of the "adverse" reporting.

14. In summary, we feel that it was appropriate, right and reasonable for the MPS to mount a full contest to the charge and allegations which it faced. The MPS was accordingly entitled to seek the verdict of a jury.

See, this isn't just about whether there's a case for appeal, it's also about the lawyers, no doubt handsomely remunerated for their tactics in smearing de Menezes, justifying themselves.

Next, it's all the judge's fault:

18. The trial judge brought his influence to bear on the jury throughout the trial by the manner and frequency of his interventions and most conspicuously in his summing-up. We have little doubt that he conveyed to the jury his own unshakeable assessment that we could and should have done a better job. This should not have occurred. It was a matter about which strong complaint was made to the judge in open court. We are not, however, at all optimistic that an appeal on this ground would succeed.

If anyone should be complained about, it's Ronald Thwaites, but then he's one of the authors of this document, and unsurprisingly he doesn't criticise his own role in the Met's failure to get an acquittal.

All of this is without mentioning that Blair himself didn't know that an innocent man had been shot dead until the following morning, when even his secretary had heard the rumours. Those supporting Ian Blair know in their heart of hearts that the Met's behaviour both on that day and since then has been indefensible: that's why they're left with such intellectually bankrupt tactics as saying that "Al-Qaeda must be laughing at us while we busy ourselves pillorying the police who keep us safe," when the reality was that the police did the bombers' work for them, and then going off on tangents about how it's really about Ian Blair's success(!) that those who want him to go care about.

The failure for anyone to be found accountable though shouldn't be surprising. The police have killed innocent men before and got away with it. They will almost certainly kill more innocent people and get away with it too. Sir Ian Blair should have been sacked, seeing as he's too obstinate and too pig-headed to do the decent thing, to show that the police themselves are not above the laws that every other single one of us are held to. He has survived, but the Met itself has been tarnished.

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Yet Paul Gray has resigned over the misplacement of data that has affected not one single person we know of so far; despite the fact that he personally was not involved.

Congratulations on this post becoming a feature of the Guardian's Best of the Web.

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