Taking the Blame

The Stockwell case now has all the hallmarks of a traditional British stitch-up.

New Establishment favourite Sir Ian Blair, a bungler of the first rank, largely brought this disaster on himself. Not the tragic and avoidable shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes itself: that was, as the court case demonstrated, the result of an accumulation of errors for which the blame can be handed out like smarties. Although quite why the "heorically brave" firearms officers felt they needed to pump seven dum-dum bullets into the neck of a suspect who had already been restrained, pinioned to the seat and not visibly armed is a matter that the court was not able to consider. But Blair surely must bear the brunt of responsibility for the distasteful aftermath. The attempted cover-ups, the smearing of the innocent victim's reputation, the refusal to accept or admit responsibility. And now, a churlish and distasteful reaction to the verdict.

The prosecution clearly demonstrated, at least to the satisfaction of anyone who followed the case with a half-open mind, that the Stockwell shooting was an accident waiting to happen . One might have expected some contrition from the chief of the organisation whose incompetence led to the death of an innocent Brazilian electrician. Instead, Blair's reaction was strangely unperturbed, almost defiant. One might have thought, listening to his comments on the steps of the Old Bailey, that he had just won the trial. The case had proved, he claimed, that there had been "no sytemic failure". In fact, his leadership had been entirely vindicated. Then came a remark of ineffable smugness:

"I intend therefore to continue to lead the met in its increasingly successful efforts to reduce crime and disrupt terrorist activities in London and elsewhere in the UK." That'll be the 14% rise in robbery, I suppose.

Increasingly successful, eh? Tell that to the family of Jean Charles, a human being whose humanity has been conveniently forgotten amid all the talk of "protecting the public". As though shooting an innocent man somehow demonstrated the Metropolitan Police's commitment to public safety.

What if he had been a terrorist? they ask.

But he wasn't a terrorist.

Yes, but what if he had been?

Well, then he could easily have been detained and arrested. Just as the four men responsible for the failed bombings of the day before were detained without a shot being fired. In fact, Jean Charles had been detained and arrested. There was never any need to shoot him. Seven times. Except that actually killing a suspected terrorist proves to everyone just how committed the police are to stopping terrorists. Even if they aren't terrorists.

The notion the Jean Charles de Menezes was killed primarily to make a point might seem far-fetched. Yet Blair's tenure of his position has been characterised primarily by making points, striking postures, devising slogans, spouting management-speak and making politically-correct noises.

Of course, Blair is a consummate courtier. Semi-competent he may be when it comes to running the police force, but he knows how to get on with the people who really count. Which isn't the people of London, of course, or even the rank and file of his own officers. The Labour establishment love him because he emotes well. He talks of the need for diversity and inclusiveness, even while presiding over an ever-more divided and disaffected community. He sits alongside ministers when they campaign for ID cards and detention without trial. He mouths all the usual platitudes. Perhaps he even believes them.

Which is why all the usual suspects have been lining up to give Blair their full support. Jacqui Smith. Ken Livingstone, who called the decision to jury's verdict (rather than the shooting itself) "disastrous" and this morning announced that policemen keep coming up to him saying, "We're with Ian". Met Authority chairman Len Duvall, who issued a statement claiming that Sir Ian had the "full support" of the body without deigning to consult its members. Keith Vaz.

And, after all, why should he take responsibility, if no-one else will? The firearms officers who killed Jean Charles are back on duty. One was even commended by the judge. Commander Cressida Dick has been promoted. And the high-ups in the Met are only following the lead of their political masters, after all. Just today, government minister Liam Byrne was found guilty of breaking a law his own government introduced by using a mobile phone while driving: he doesn't see any need to resign either.


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