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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 26.07.05

Innocence is invariably the first and the worst victim of war. Britain is now engaged in a war against a disembodied enemy. Despite the clues that have been discovered after the July 7 blasts, the police in Britain are still working only on the basis of suspicion. There is no clear idea of how widespread the terrorist networks are and hence no clear action plan for their elimination. The police and the common people wait with fear for the fire next time. But the common people now face a different kind of terror. This is the fear of the police, armed now with orders to shoot on suspicion. One innocent man has already been killed as the British police have lost their innocence. The traditional British bobby has acquired macabre features. The shoot-at-sight order is a reflection of the enormity of the menace that threatens London. It is also characteristically double-edged. There is no other way to make London safe from attacks by terrorists except by giving the police unprecedented powers. Terror can only be countered by terror. But the use of terror by the police cannot be as indiscriminate as that of the fanatics who are the targets. Terrorists count their success by the number of innocent people they kill. The police have to use violence against terrorists so that those who are innocent can get back their sense of security and carry on with their normal lives. Reports suggest that the London police are failing to provide this security and, in fact, are making the innocent more frightened.

The sense of insecurity and foreboding is related, of course, to the cold-blooded killing of a Brazilian in Stockwell station in south London by policemen. Mr Ian Blair, the commissioner of the Metropolitan police, admitted that the man ? now identified as Jean Charles de Menezes ? was innocent. But Mr Blair could not provide any assurance that someone else would not be shot in a similar manner. On the contrary, he emphasized that such killings remained a possibility. Such are the unusual circumstances prevailing in London that people living there or visiting have to accept that the guardians of law and order can at any given moment turn into killers. A face of British civilization is undergoing a cruel transformation, albeit under the pressure of the most trying conditions.

Mr Blair has, however, displayed rare courage by admitting that his men had killed an innocent man by mistake. Not many police chiefs would be so honest. In India, there have been many instances which have provoked the suspicion that somebody innocent had been killed and incriminating evidence planted on the corpse to cover up the killing. Mr Blair has grasped the nettle. This honesty will stand his force in good stead, unless of course the admission is nothing more than insouciance in the face of the death of an innocent and ordinary human being.