Wednesday 17 August 2005

De Menezes.

It turns out that everything we were told about the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes — that he was challenged by police and ran, that he ran at all, that he jumped the barrier, that he was wearing a suspiciously bulky coat — was a pack of lies told by the police to cover their arses. I unreservedly apologise for saying that he'd acted stupidly. He hadn't.

As an aside, it's an interesting example of how unreliable eyewitnesses are: many eyewitness accounts at the time supported the police's story, but it's now looking as if the stress of seeing a man shot dead caused some witnesses to imagine a lot of what they thought they saw.

Every police officer discovered to have lied about this should be sacked. There are excuses for mistakes — even mistakes as terrible as this one. The moment the police decided to lie about what they'd done, all such excuses vanished.

Ironically, it looks like one of the reasons for this mistake is that the British police aren't armed. The police surveillance team weren't armed; there was a separate armed response unit, who weren't taking part in the surveillance. The armed officers don't appear to have done anything wrong (until they started lying afterwards): they were told that a confirmed suicide bomber was getting onto a train and had to be stopped immediately. And they did a great job. Somewhere inbetween the surveillance unit — who don't appear to have thought de Menezes was about to self-detonate — and the armed unit, the Chinese-whispers effect occurred, turning "Apprehend the suspect" into "Kill the bomber." Had the surveillance team been armed themselves, would they have killed de Menezes? Impossible to say for sure, but it doesn't look like it. Had the armed officers been part of the investigation and watching him from the start, had they been fully informed rather than acting on brief instructions, would they have shot him? Again, I doubt it.

Traditionally, the British police aren't armed because it would lead to an escalation of violence between them and criminals, encouraging more and more criminals to carry guns themselves. This may once have been true, and the policy may well have delayed the tooling-up of Britain's criminals by a few years. But it's redundant now: our criminals are very much armed and it's silly to pretend otherwise.

If an officer's going to shoot someone, he should be allowed at least to be confident in his own mind that he's doing the right thing. After this fiasco, how are the members of armed response units going to feel about the information they receive via their earpieces? End this foolish division of labour.

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