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.
The IPCC is carrying out an inquiry into the conduct of Sir Ian – its second investigation into the Stockwell events – in response to a complaint by Mr de Menezes’s family, who allege that the commissioner and others in the force tried to mislead the public about the shooting. Central to the inquiry is the accuracy of Sir Ian’s statements after the shooting.
The revelations come as Brazil’s president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, visits Britain and after yesterday’s backing for Sir Ian’s shoot-to-kill policy by the Association of Chief Police Officers.
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.”
The IPCC has been told that before Sir Ian’s press conference fears were mounting among senior officers that the wrong man had been killed. By 4pm that Friday, key senior officers were being called into meetings to plan what to do. IPCC investigators have been told that early that evening, the Met deputy commissioner, Paul Stephenson, was at a meeting where it was said the wrong man had been shot.
Privately Sir Ian stands by his account about what he knew and when, and believes he will not be questioned by the IPCC. He has insisted that the first inkling he had that the wrong man had been killed was on the Saturday morning. He told the News of the World: “The key component was that at that time, and for the next 24 hours, I and everybody who advised me believed the person shot was a suicide bomber.”
Harriet Wistrich, a solicitor for the de Menezes family, said what Sir Ian knew and when was a “key point” of the inquiry. “He made statements on the Friday afternoon and later which were misleading. Was he telling the truth, did the Met give out misleading information to make things look less bad for themselves.”
Forget all the ifs and maybes, Charles de Menezes was gunned down deliberately. He gave absolutely no indication that he was a “suicide bomber” and at no point was he ever challenged. All we have is the police version of what was essentially an execution.
Its purpose was to send a clear signal to Londoners. Implicit in the murder of Jean Charles de Menezes was the message: step out of line and you’ll be killed. That’s why the shoot-to-kill policy will remain in place.
And why, apart from token rebukes and reprimands, it is unlikely that anyone will be punished for the murder. Of course, Sir Ian’s career may sacrificed to appease persistent critics; but the punishment for Jean Charles de Menezes murder will be little more that.