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Monday, September 19, 2005 

Met chief faces own inquiry into his comments on murder of de Menezes.

This isn't going to go away any time soon:

Britain's most senior police officer is to face an official investigation into whether he told the truth about the shooting dead of an innocent man who was mistaken for a terrorist, the Guardian has learned.

Witnesses have told the Independent Police Complaints Commission about events inside the Metropolitan police on July 22, the day Jean Charles de Menezes was killed at Stockwell tube station. It is believed their testimony raises questions about a claim by Sir Ian Blair, the Met police commissioner, that he did not know that the wrong man had been killed until 24 hours after the shooting.

The Guardian has learned that a senior Met officer has told the IPCC of his concerns that senior colleagues knew or suspected on the afternoon of July 22 that the wrong person had been shot. Investigators have also received the names of other officers at the top of the Met who by the afternoon of the shooting feared the force had made a mistake.

Mr de Menezes was gunned down in a tube carriage by firearms officers who believed he was about to detonate a device. The officers were operating under a shoot to kill policy which allows them to open fire without warning. The IPCC was investigating how Mr de Menezes came to be wrongly identified as a terrorist and then shot, but has decided to widen its inquiries to include Sir Ian.

In an interview last month in the News of the World, Sir Ian said that for 24 hours he believed his officers had shot the right man. The newspaper quoted him as saying: "Somebody came in at 10.30am [on Saturday] and said the equivalent of 'Houston we have a problem'. I thought 'That's dreadful. What are we going to do about that?'" Straight after the shooting, Sir Ian wrote to the top civil servant at the Home Office saying that the police should conduct the inquiry, not independent investigators. Sir Ian 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."

Sources have told the Guardian that by just after 4pm on July 22 senior officers were discussing possible consequences of the shooting. The officers knew the name of the shot man and the fact that he was a Brazilian national. Sir Ian had defended the shooting at a press conference at 3.30pm that day, though senior officers believed there was a significant likelihood that the wrong man had been killed. The commissioner told reporters: "This operation was directly linked to the ongoing terrorist investigation. As I understand the situation, the man was challenged and refused to obey police instructions."

I already felt that it was highly unlikely the "Sir" Ian was not aware for 24 hours that the wrong man had been shot. However, this is perhaps one part of the case where we should hold our scepticism for now. It has been reported that senior officers at the Met were unhappy with appointment of "Sir" Ian to begin with, feeling that he was too "politically correct". True or not, this may well be the start of a whispering campaign against him. As in the courts, we should treat "Sir" Ian innocent until proven guilty. He was not in charge of the operation, did not fire the bullet, and may well have been handed faulty information or kept out of the loop. The case may be damning, but until the already discredited IPCC report arrives, it would be too easy to cast stones. If it turns out to be a whitewash, similar to Hutton, then will be the time to start hurling.

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