Met police chief Sir Ian Blair tried to stop an independent investigation into the mistaken shooting of a terrorist suspect in London.
In correspondence released under the freedom of information act (FOIA), the metropolitan police commissioner wrote on July 22 – the day police officers shot Jean Charles de Menezes dead at Stockwell tube station – to tell the home office that he had given instructions for the shooting not to be referred to the independent police complaints commission (IPCC).
He said that at a meeting two days earlier with the prime minister, he had raised the issue of “maximising the legal protection for officers who had to take decisions” on suspected suicide bombers.
The commissioner wrote in his letter to the home office permanent secretary, Sir John Gieve: “I do not seek to exempt [officers] from investigation (and ultimately, therefore, prosecution if evidence of deliberate malfeasance was available).”
“The current urgency, however, is over the role of the IPCC. There is much concern about revealing either the tactics that we have and/or the sources of information on which we are operating.
“I therefore believe that, in a fast-moving, multi-site terrorist situation, in which suicide bombers are clearly a very strong possibility, a chief officer of police should be able to suspend [section] 17 of the police reform act 2002, which requires us to supply all information that the independent police complaints commissioner may require.
“The IPCC has a dual role in the sense that it, itself, is under a duty to provide as much information as it can to the complainant or to members of the deceased’s family. This could put further lives at risk in these circumstances.
“I have therefore given instructions that the shoot-ing that has just occurred at Stockwell is not to be referred to the IPCC and that they will be given no access to the scene at the present time. The investigation will be carried out by the met’s own directorate of professional standards. This investig-ation will be rigorous but subordinate to the needs of the counter-terrorism operation.
“I have spoken to Nick Hardwick, chairman of the IPCC, and informed him of this decision.”
He ended by saying: “Clearly, this is a developing situation but for the time being I seek your support for this measure, which may form the basis for amending legislation in the future.”
However, the home office did not support the met commissioner’s attempt to stop the investigation. Gieve, after speaking to him about the letter, wrote in a reply the same day: “This is a very fast-moving situation and I understand the pressures that you and your officers are having to work under and the dangers your officers are facing.”
However, he continued: “As I explained, I do not believe that section 17 can be suspended as you suggest.
“We agreed that the best way forward would be for you and I to meet with Nick Hardwick to review the position and the options available. I have asked my office to arrange this as soon as possible.
“In the meantime, I would suggest that the metro-politan police should not make any statement at all about the form of any investigation.”
FOIA Centre commentary
The home office was rather more ready to disclose this correspondence than the met, which is gaining a notoriety for being reluctant to meet FOIA requests. This disclosure was plainly a matter of great public interest. Greater openness on the part of the met might have prevented the public being shocked to discover its shoot-to-kill policy on terrorist suspects when it was first implemented – wrongly.
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