| Jean Charles de Menezes
London, July 24: Far from being apologetic about the shooting of an innocent man by officers investigating the London bombings, Ian Blair, the Metropolitan police commissioner, said today that “somebody else could be shot”.
Scotland Yard confirmed last night that the man shot five times in the head by plainclothes officers at Stockwell Underground station on Friday was a 27-year-old Brazilian electrician, Jean Charles de Menezes, who had been working legally in Britain for three years.
In PR terms, Scotland Yard has scored a spectacular own goal even in the current anti-Muslim and anti-Pakistani mood of the country. However, a big section of the British people will go along with the police explanation that this was ' in Ian’s words ' a “tragedy”.
The Brazilian government has demanded an explanation, while friends and relatives of the dead man emphasised he was innocent, which everyone now accepts.
Ian, who made the mistake of announcing the shooting was “directly linked” to the terrorist investigation at a press conference on Friday, today defended the actions of his officers. “What we have got to recognise is that people are taking incredibly difficult fast time decisions in life-threatening situations.”
He said that de Menezes had emerged from a “not very large” block of flats which had been under surveillance before he was followed to Stockwell station. He added that the shoot-to-kill procedures for dealing with suicide bombers would remain in place.
“They have to be that because there is no point in shooting at someone’s chest because that is where the bomb is likely to be,” he said. “There is no point in shooting anywhere else if they fall down and detonate it. It is drawn from experience from other countries, including Sri Lanka.”
He also said: “I think we are quite comfortable the policy is right but these are fantastically difficult times. We have to take this tragedy, deeply regret it and move on to the main investigation which is proceeding at an extraordinary pace.”
In an apology to the dead man’s family, Ian said: “This is a tragedy. The Metropolitan Police accept full responsibility for this. To the family I can only express my deep regrets.”
Others will be less sanguine about the killing of an innocent man. A meting is planned between Jack Straw, the British foreign secretary, and his Brazilian opposite number, Celso Amorim, who happens to be in London today for unrelated talks.
The dead man’s relatives challenged the police version of events. One of them, Alex Pereira, 28, said his cousin was “a 100 per cent good guy who never did anything wrong and had no reason to run. I don’t think he ran from police. I don’t think he would do that. They can’t show anything that shows that he had."
Shami Chakrabarti, director of the human rights group Liberty, called on Ian to give a full public account of what went wrong in the shooting. She said: “London’s minority communities are feeling anxious for their sons today. Sir Ian Blair should give a full television press conference just as he did after the bombings.”
British police have arrested a third man in connection with attempted bombings on London’s transport network last Thursday, a police spokesman said today. Two other suspects remain in custody, he said.