Thu, Nov 08, 2007 - Page 6 News List

London police chief pressured to quit

DAMNING CONCLUSION The commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, is still supported by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, but the British public is almost equally divided on his fate

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

Sir Ian Blair was to be under further pressure to quit as the London metropolitan police commissioner yesterday with Conservatives and Liberal Democrats on the London assembly likely to call for an end to his term.

The move comes on the eve of the publication of the Independent Police Complaints Commission's (IPCC) report into the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes.

A damning conclusion from that body may make Sir Ian's position untenable, though the commissioner is still supported by the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith and London Mayor Ken Livingstone. Public opinion on whether he should stay or go is split down the middle, according to a poll published yesterday.

In the wake of the conviction last week of the Metropolitan police -- known as the Met -- under health and safety legislation, Sir Ian has faced many calls to step down. So far he has said he has no intention of leaving his post early.

At today's plenary session of the London assembly, the Conservative group will be calling upon the chair to write to Smith expressing the assembly's lack of confidence in the commissioner.

Last night the Conservative assembly member Richard Barnes said: "The issue of whether the Met police is properly run is vital for London. The guilty verdict at the Old Bailey health and safety trial; the publication of the report into the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, Stockwell 1 to be published on Thursday; and the Stockwell 2 report into the aftermath of the shooting pose very grave questions over Sir Ian's leadership and judgment.

"We have come to the conclusion that we have no confidence in Sir Ian Blair's stewardship of the Metropolitan police service."

The Liberal Democrat leader on the London assembly, Mike Tuffrey, added: "The debate over the commissioner's future is now getting in the way of the good policing of London.

"The Liberal Democrats will be moving a motion in the London assembly today calling on the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) to take the necessary steps to end the debate and remove Sir Ian from his post, if necessary, by obtaining the permission of the home secretary."

Together the two parties have 14 out of the 25 assembly seats, with seven being held by Labour, which backs Sir Ian.

The One London party holds two seats and is likely to vote for the Lib Dem motion, referring the issue to the MPA. Damian Hockney of One London, who also sits on the MPA, said: "Every issue needs to be looked at if he is to go; the stability of the Met and whether we will learn the real lessons from what has happened simply by removing him."

Mr Livingstone remains bullish in his defense of Sir Ian and accused the Tories of being "cynically irresponsible." Praising Sir Ian for bringing down crime in the capital, he attacked the Conservative spokesman on home affairs, David Davis.

"It is important for Londoners to understand why this campaign of David Davis, by undermining policing, undermines their own safety in the fight against terrorism," he said.

The London assembly does not have the power to remove the commissioner but losing the vote would be damaging for Sir Ian. Last night senior Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative voices all said that Sir Ian would lose the vote.

A poll for the Times yesterday found 48 percent of the public felt Sir Ian should go; 46 percent believed he should stay.

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