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London police chief defends handling of shooting

August 20, 2005

By Andrew Gray

LONDON (Reuters) – London’s police chief on Sunday defended
his handling of the fatal shooting of a Brazilian electrician
by his officers, insisting he still believed the dead man was a
suicide bomber 24 hours after the killing.

Ian Blair, Britain’s most senior policeman, also suggested
news media were concentrating too much on the shooting rather
than the deadly suicide bombings police were investigating when
they mistakenly killed 27-year-old Jean Charles de Menezes.

Blair has come under heavy pressure over the July 22
shooting on an underground train. Leaked documents from the
investigation into the case last week exposed blunders and cast
doubt on initial accounts from police and witnesses.

The shooting took place with the capital on edge, the day
after a failed attempt to repeat suicide bombings by four
British Muslims which killed 52 people two weeks earlier.

“The key component was that at that time — and for the
next 24 hours — I and everybody who advised me believed the
person who was shot was a suicide bomber,” Blair told the News
of the World newspaper.

Relatives of de Menezes have called on Blair to quit
because of police mistakes and information they say was
misleading.

But Home Secretary Charles Clarke backed Blair and his
force on Saturday. He said no judgment should be passed on the
shooting until the investigation was complete.

Blair defended his actions as two newspapers reported that
units involved in the killing were blaming each other.

“HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM”

The broadsheet Observer and tabloid Sunday Mirror both said
undercover officers who followed de Menezes — after he came
out of an apartment block under observation as part of the
police investigation — did not believe he posed an immediate
threat.

The officers were shocked when armed police arrived at the
train at Stockwell station in south London and shot him, the
reports said, citing senior police sources.

But the armed officers maintain they would not have shot
the man if he had not been openly identified to them by one of
the surveillance team, the Mirror said.

Blair said it was not until the morning after the shooting
that he was informed an innocent man had been killed.

“Somebody came in at 10:30 a.m. and said the equivalent of
‘Houston, we have a problem’,” he said. “I thought: ‘That’s
dreadful. What are we going to do about that?”‘

Lawyers for the de Menezes family have voiced doubts that
senior police officers were not aware of the truth soon after
the shooting.

Sky television, citing security sources, reported on the
day of the shooting that the dead man was not one of the four
who had carried out the failed bomb attacks the previous day.

Also on the day of the shooting, Blair said it was
“directly linked to the ongoing and expanding anti-terrorist
operation.” He did not say the dead man was a suspected suicide
bomber.

In Sunday’s interview, Blair stressed he had apologized for
the killing and was concerned for the de Menezes family.

“But what concerns me is that this part of the story is
concentrating on the death of one individual, when we have 52
dead people from all faiths and communities in London and from
abroad,” he said.

“We have four dead bombers and we have to concentrate on
how we find the people who are helping or thinking about
planning further atrocities,” he said. “It seems the balance of
reporting is in the wrong place.”




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