Fri, Mar 10, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Probe queries top cop's shooting story

INQUIRY Senior police officers have raised doubts about statements made by the head of London's police force in the aftermath of the shooting of an innocent Brazilian man

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

An official inquiry into the shooting of a man mistaken for a terrorist at Stockwell subway train station in London has received evidence from senior police officers raising questions about London police chief Sir Ian Blair's account of the killing and its aftermath.

Blair, the commissioner of London's Metropolitan Police, has repeatedly said that he was unaware that the victim, Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes, was not a suicide bomber until 24 hours after he was shot on July 22 last year, a day after several attempted attacks on the London transport system by terrorists.

But several witnesses have told the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) 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 London police's Scotland Yard 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 Blair -- its second investigation into the Stockwell events -- in response to a complaint by de Menezes' family, who allege the commissioner and others in the force tried to mislead the public about the shooting.

Central to the inquiry is the accuracy of Blair's statements after the shooting.

The revelations came as Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva visited Britain and after Wednesday's backing for the commissioner's shoot-to-kill policy by the Association of Chief Police Officers.

De Menezes was killed on a subway train at around 10am on 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 Metropolitan Police's headquarters that day said every senior officer he spoke to believed that 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 Blair's assertions and any evidence backing him.

Around midday on July 22, Blair tried to block the IPCC investigating, 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, Blair 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 Blair'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 deputy commissioner Paul Stephenson was at a meeting where it was said the wrong man had been shot.

Privately Blair 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.

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