David Leppard / The Sunday Times – 2006-04-18 09:38:52
Senior Officers Undermine Yard Claims on Shot Brazilian
David Leppard / The Sunday Times
(April 16, 2006) — Fresh doubt has been cast on a statement by the Metropolitan police commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, that he and his aides did not know for 24 hours that the Brazilian shot dead by his officers at Stockwell Tube station was an innocent man.
Two senior officers, one a counter-terrorism expert, have given testimony that appears to contradict Blair’s claims.
They have given signed statements to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) that just hours after Jean Charles de Menezes was killed on July 22, they were told there was a “possibility” that an innocent man had been killed.
The officers say they were instructed to carry out an assessment to help handle the expected public relations backlash to the bungled shooting.
One of the new witnesses is Robert Beckley, an assistant chief constable of Hertfordshire police, who was visiting the Yard that afternoon for a previously planned meeting to discuss terrorism.
Beckley is a senior member of the terrorism committee of the Association of Chief Police Officers and is chairman the association’s committee on relations with the Muslim community. He also commands a national intelligence unit that monitors tension within ethnic communities.
Well-placed police sources say Beckley was at the meeting about six hours after the shooting when a more senior officer told him the wrong man may have been killed.
One officer said: “[The conversation] was around the possibility that there had been a mistake and they had to plan around it”.
Beckley has told the IPCC that he and another officer were immediately asked to start drawing up an analysis of how the Met’s relations with the ethnic minority community would be affected if the wrong person had been shot.
Beckley’s evidence is said to be supported by a second officer, a commander in the Met, who was also present at the meeting and has given a signed statement to the IPCC.
One month after the killing, Blair said: “The key component was that at the time — and for the next 24 hours — I and everybody who advised me believed the person who was shot was a suicide bomber.”
A formal investigation into Blair began after de Menezes’s family complained that this was just one of several misleading claims made by the Met soon after the shooting.
Blair, who was appointed last year, is under pressure to resign over a series of misjudgments. Last month he was forced to apologise to Lord Goldsmith, the attorney-general, after it emerged that he had secretly taped a telephone conversation with him.
Beckley said last week that it would be inappropriate to discuss his evidence during the inquiry. “All I’ve done is explain what happened. Until the IPCC make a judgment on this I would prefer not to comment,” he said.
The IPCC is already examining testimony against Blair by Brian Paddick, a deputy assistant commissioner, who was closely involved in the police response to the July bombings.
He gave the IPCC a statement that directly contradicted Blair’s account. Paddick said he had been at Scotland Yard on the day of the shooting — the day after the failed July 21 suicide bombings in London — when he heard a member of Blair’s staff being told the wrong man had been shot.
“We Were Convinced We’d Shot a Terrorist'”
David Rose / The Observer
LONDON (March 19, 2006) — Some time around 4.30pm on 22 July last year, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Alan Given sat in the superintendent’s office at Leman Street police station, east London. With him were two firearms officers, two men who, seven hours earlier, had shot dead Brazilian electrician Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell Underground station in the mistaken belief that he was an armed suicide terrorist.
‘They had just been “forensicated”,’ Given said last night. ‘Handing over their weapons, ammunition and clothing to the forensic officers, as is routine in any case of this kind. I didn’t think it was right to talk about the incident, or our conversation would have counted as a formal interview and might one day have been given in evidence.
‘I just wanted to make sure they had everything they needed and that they had been in contact with their families. There was no rejoicing, but the mood was buoyant. They were convinced they had just shot someone who was a terrorist. We ask these people to do an enormously difficult job, and they had done it.’
The second-in-command of Scotland Yard’s Central Operations department, in which the tactical firearms unit CO19 falls, Given was the most senior officer directly responsible for the weapons team on duty that day — his boss, Assistant Commissioner Steve House, was away. Intimately concerned with both the fateful operation that led to the death of de Menezes and its immediate aftermath, yesterday he gave an exclusive interview to The Observer, disclosing significant aspects of the events of 22 July for the first time.
Given, who retired after 32 years last Thursday, is the first senior officer to discuss the shooting on-the-record. His account provides an emphatic rebuttal to the claim, now being investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, that the Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, knew by late afternoon that an innocent man had been killed.
Given said he kept in close touch with those in charge of the unfolding police inquiry throughout the day and evening. He said he went home at about 11pm and at that time ‘the feeling was that we’d shot a terrorist, someone directly involved’. He said that he only learnt the terrible truth in a telephone call next morning, 24 hours after the shooting — the same time that Blair last August told reporters he had found out.
Last night Given’s assertion was supported by Lord Harris, a leading Labour member of the Metropolitan Police Authority and its former chairman. He told The Observer that the Yard’s Anti-Terrorist Branch did not relinquish control of the scene of the shooting until 10.30pm on 22 July — meaning that it must have been assumed that de Menezes was a terrorist until at least that time.
‘I recall being told at an early stage, when the timing was not a controversial issue, that it was not until some time during the night that it became clear that the police had shot an innocent person,’ he said.
In the small hours of 23 July, police conducted a lengthy interview with de Menezes’s colleague and cousin, Alex Alves Pereira. In a BBC Panorama programme this month, he said that they did not tell him that de Menezes was dead for several hours, and asked questions about his supposed links with terrorism.
Given’s interview comes at the end of a torrid week for the Metropolitan Police, fed by a drip of corrosive leaks to the media that has placed Blair under heavy pressure. The first — revelations that he had recorded phone conversations with members of the IPCC about the de Menezes shooting, and with the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith — were true, and Blair swiftly apologised. Then came BBC reports that a senior officer, now known to be Deputy Assistant Commissioner Brian Paddick, was claiming that a member of Blair’s private office knew de Menezes was innocent as early as the Friday.
Senior police figures, including Blair’s deputy, Paul Stephenson, and Chris Fox, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, have also moved to defend the Commissioner. They have told The Observer that they believe he is the target of a witch-hunt by parts of the media and disaffected officers, who seemed ready to stop at nothing in an attempt to force his resignation.
Blair and his top advisers decided at a meeting in his eighth-floor office last Tuesday that, having kept a ‘low profile’ for many months while the IPCC inquiries into the shooting proceeded, the time had come for a change of policy: media allegations that they thought misleading would be rapidly rebutted, even if they concerned de Menezes’s death. On Thursday the Yard issued a trenchant denial, saying that the claim about Blair’s private office knowing about de Menezes’s innocence was wrong.
Paddick said yesterday that reports on what he had told the IPCC inquiry were inaccurate: ‘Somebody leaked an inaccurate version of my statement to the IPCC. But rather than saying that the IPCC is still investigating the matter, the Met have effectively called me a liar. The Met have not done the right thing. I am taking the appropriate steps to defend myself.’
Like other senior officers, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Given said he believed that Blair has been the victim ‘of a campaign to undermine him, much of it grossly unfair’. It was this sense of injustice, he added, that was prompting him to speak out: ‘I have rarely come across a police officer as honest as Ian Blair.
If he had known something was wrong on 22 July, the last thing he would have done would have been to issue misleading statements, knowing they would surely have exploded into an even more damaging story. There were no lies or cover-up, and I was in a position to have known.’
He also denied media claims that the shooting of de Menezes plunged the Yard into ‘chaos,’ amid a blizzard of conflicting reports and no visible leadership.
‘If we go back to the bombings of 7 July, when I was also there throughout the day, the feeling was a bit chaotic,’ Given said. ‘We didn’t really know what was going on at first. We had reports of four — in fact, it was originally seven -—explosions, and didn’t know quite how to respond. We were sending people all over the place.’
The 7 July bombings did, he said, herald ‘the most difficult fortnight I think there’s been in the history of the Met’. For the first time, he revealed, the Met asked forces across the country to send extra police to London: ‘We had hundreds of officers coming from Wales, the North and so on to try to ensure that our response was good enough to prevent further harm to Londoners.’
However, Given said, ‘the attempted bombings of 21 July didn’t feel like chaos at all. We had something happen, and we knew how to respond. By 22 July we had a very large, ongoing inquiry into terrorist activity. But when it came to the Stockwell shooting, there was a sense that it was no different from an incident such as police shooting a bank robber.
‘It was a very, very serious thing to happen, that required serious action which we carried out in a normal, professional way. Think back to the Stanley case [the 1999 shooting of Harry Stanley, who was killed because officers believed that a table leg he was carrying in a plastic bag was a gun]. That was another shooting of an innocent person in very different circumstances: something we wish hadn’t happened, but it didn’t throw us into chaos. Imagine: if we were plunged into chaos every time there was a serious incident, we would be debilitated.’
On the morning of the shooting, the atmosphere at Scotland Yard was, nevertheless, ‘anxious and tense’. A fifth bomb had been found the previous evening at Wormwood Scrubs, Given recalled, and there were widespread fears of imminent further attacks: ‘Everyone understood that we needed to do something, and fast.’ As the acting chief of central operations, he was not in charge of the anti-terrorist investigation or the botched surveillance operation that led to the mistaken identification of de Menenzes.
On the other hand, he was responsible for the firearms teams being sent out all over London.
When news of the shooting broke inside the Yard, said Given, the first reaction was surprise that one of the four men wanted for the 21 July attacks had been found so quickly, coupled with ‘relief’. While the Anti-Terrorist Branch began its investigation, Given went to see Blair. His room was next door to Blair’s private office, he added, and he ‘went in and out of there frequently all day, in order to liaise with the Commissioner’s staff over the deployment of resources. Given said he could not comment on Paddick’s claim that someone in the private office knew that de Menezes was innocent early on: ‘All I can say is that if they told him, they didn’t tell me.’
With Blair’s approval, Given announced that he intended to visit the CO19 team at Leman Street as soon as they were free to talk. On the way, he spoke by phone to Commander Cressida Dick, the firearms officers’ immediate boss who is believed to have given the order to shoot de Menezes. ‘She seemed very positive, and strong in her view of what had happened, as she always is. She was confident she had done the right thing and was keen to carry on working.’
At Leman Street, Given talked to all 24 officers in the CO19 unit together, as well as the two involved in the shooting. ‘They had shot someone in very unusual circumstances, but were convinced that they had shot someone directly linked with the terrorist attacks.’
All that day and long into the evening, Given said that either he or one of his staff — who briefed him thoroughly each time — attended a series of four ‘Gold Group’ meetings chaired by Assistant Commissioner Alan Brown, one of the Met’s most experienced detectives, held to discuss the shooting and the continuing investigation into it. At these meetings, each of which lasted about an hour, senior representatives from all Met departments involved with the case presented their latest findings and agreed what formal ‘actions’ needed to be carried out next. Among those present, Given said, were officers from Special Branch, the Anti-Terrorist Branch and Professional Standards.
‘One of the Gold group’s main jobs is to present the latest intelligence. If there had been any intelligence saying that an innocent person had been shot, it would have emerged at the group,’ Given said. ‘There was no information that he wasn’t one of the four men wanted for 21 July.’
There were times, he said, when a terrorist investigation might produce information that could not be presented to a Gold Group, where not everyone would have been security-cleared: ‘Something like this, that the wrong man has been shot, would be sensitive, but it wouldn’t be restricted. It’s something that could be shared. It wasn’t shared at the Gold Group on 22 July.’
Others at the Yard and in the police service nationally agree with Given that Blair is the target of an unjustified campaign. Among the most prominent is his own Deputy Commissioner, Stephenson. Taping the calls with the IPCC and Lord Goldsmith had been a mistake, he said, which Blair had publicly regretted, as he had his earlier comment that he was surprised at the level of media coverage of the murders of Soham schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman. But he was personally astonished at the vitriol directed at the Commissioner.
‘It feels unwarranted and unfair in its scale and lack of proportionality,’ he said. ‘I don’t want to be naive: if you live in a goldfish bowl, as Ian Blair does, everything you do or say is going to be magnified.’ But often, he added, it felt as if some journalists were determined to ‘get’ Blair, with little attention being paid to the successes on his watch, such as cutting crime, including murder, to its lowest level for years, a huge increase in ethnic minority recruiting and the rolling-out of neighbourhood police teams across London.
Inaccurate stories were being published willy-nilly, Stephenson said, citing one report that claimed he had chaired a meeting at 4pm on 22 July where it emerged that de Menezes was not a terrorist.
‘I can state categorically that no such meeting took place. If I thought there was a likelihood that Ian Blair could be forced out by the media I would be very concerned, because I think he is the right man to lead British policing.’
Fox suggested that one factor behind the campaign may be Blair’s high-profile insistence on racial equality. ‘The term “political correctness” is being used about him as a damning indictment, when he’s trying to be fair. The media coverage is targeted and unbalanced. If he were forced from office without all the evidence being fairly weighed, it would make the job of whoever followed him impossible. It would mean they could not risk making any change, could risk no upset. But the police can’t sit still.’
Blair, he added, was ‘not a stereotypical cop. He’s got an academic mind and is very thoughtful.’ Some people seemed to find that intimidating, but the police service could not rely on ‘street cops’ alone. Tom Williamson, a former
Chief Constable and senior Met detective, now a visiting professor of policing at Portsmouth University, agreed. The battle over Blair’s future and his attempted reforms was, he said, becoming a ‘totemic struggle’ for the future of British policing, adding: ‘I just want the media to leave Ian Blair alone.’
Having survived last week, most observers agree that the litmus test Blair now needs to pass is the IPCC report into his own handling of the de Menezes shooting, which will try to conclude who knew what and when.
Meanwhile, there are signs that the leaks against Blair and the near-meltdown at Scotland Yard are beginning to cause lasting collateral damage – with the IPCC itself, the first truly independent body to invigilate Britain’s police, one likely casualty. ‘For goodness sake, just leave the man [Blair] alone and wait for the IPCC report,’ Paddick said. ‘The version of events is a matter for the IPCC to decide.’
Blair’s allies insist he will weather the downpour and that he had no intention of granting the wishes of those who wanted him to resign. ‘We’re not just campaigning to save our local sheriff,’ Stephenson said.
Given’s interview with The Observer appears to clear Blair of the charge that he misled the public over the shooting. However, the deeper questions — what went wrong before the shooting, not afterwards; how a police and MI5 intelligence and surveillance operation went so disastrously wrong; and why the order was given to shoot an innocent man — still remain with the Crown Prosecution Service, which is yet to decide whether to lay criminal charges.
For the bereaved de Menezes family and his friends, these issues put all others in the shade.
Timetable of Tragedy
• 10am — CCTV footage shows Jean Charles de Menezes entering Stockwell station at a ‘normal walking pace.’ Shortly after, he is shot seven times in the head.
• 4pm — Sir Ian Blair announces that the shooting was ‘directly linked’ to anti-terror operations. He adds: ‘As I understand, the situation the man was challenged and refused to obey police instructions.’
• 11pm — Alan Given leaves Scotland Yard, still convinced after briefings from members of the firearms unit that they have averted a potential attack on London that day.
• 0.45am — A cousin of de Menezes, Alex Alves Pereira is questioned for three hours about supposed links with terrorism. During the interrogation, police realise they may have shot an innocent man.
• 11am — Blair briefed over emerging concerns regarding the identity of the man shot day before at Stockwell.
• 5pm — Scotland Yards confirms that the victim was not connected with the attempted terror attacks on the capital on 21 July. Blair later says that he first learnt of this that morning.
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