Tag Archives: Sir Ian Blair

Now Ian Blair Denies Institutional Racism

Justice Secretary Jack Straw says the Metropolitan Police is no longer institutionally racist, current Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson says it’s no longer a helpful concept, and his predecessor Sir Ian Blair now denies that the police who investigated the murder of Stephen Lawrence were institutionally racist:

Sir Ian Blair, the former commissioner of the Metropolitan police, said today that he did not “necessarily” believe that the police officers who investigated the murder of Stephen Lawrence were racist.

Blair, who was himself engulfed in a racism row in his final days in office, said the police involved in the investigation into the black teenager’s murder had merely been guilty of treating people in a “monochrome” way.

Giving evidence to the Metropolitan police authority’s inquiry into racism in the force, the retired police chief added that the description of the Met as “institutionally racist” by the Macpherson inquiry had proved helpful in prompting subsequent reforms.

In his first public appearance since he was ousted by Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, last October, Blair told the race and faith inquiry panel of the continuing struggle to ensure that all members of the community were treated equally by police.

Blair said: “Anybody who had read the Macpherson report would recognise an institution that was treating people in a very monochrome way. I don’t necessarily believe there was anything racist about the activities of the Metropolitan police in relation to the Lawrences. What the investigators did was they treated the Lawrences as they treated a whole range of working-class people and they just did not understand the expectations and experiences of the black community. That is what has changed.”

On the one hand he accepts that the concept of institutional racism, introduced into the British public sector by the Macpherson Report into the police’s handling of Stephen Lawrence’s death, had been ‘helpful’. He then demonstrates no understanding of why it was applied. The officers who investigated the murder didn’t themselves have to be racist in order to bring about an institutionally racist outcome, defined by Sir William Macpherson as:

“the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin”, which “can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness, and racist stereotyping which disadvantages minority ethnic people.”.

Make your own mind up whether his conflation of racism with institutional racism is deliberate and self-serving, or whether he’s simply as ignorant as the rest of his institutionally racist former force. The latter would at least offer a partial insight into why the Met has found it so persistently difficult to stop itself being perceived as persistently riven with bigotry.

De Menezes: Police Cowardice or Incompetence?

I’m amazed at the low standards to which the Metropolitan Police are being held, and the degree to which commentators are choosing to defer to police ‘fear’ or ‘bravery’ in examining the death of Jean Charles De Menezes, when the inquest jury determined their account was based on incompetence and lies. Why should it matter that suicide bombers had finally acted against London? I expect the police to behave in the same, cool, evidence-based manner at all times because that’s what they’re trained to do. I don’t expect CO19 officers to run into a tube station, with little information, garbled commands, and to kill innocent people with no warning and no chance to identify themselves ever. Former London Mayor Ken Livingstone would have you believe:

Cressida Dick (w)as the “most talented” officer he worked with.

In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Livingstone said the police officers made mistakes because of the “unbelievable” pressure they were under.

Ms Dick, who was in command of the operation and subsequently promoted, has “commissioner potential” he says.

Now ‘pressure’ is an excuse to write off a human life. Can someone tell me how Dick is ‘commissioner potential’ when she changed her orders multiple times, allowed De Menezes onto the train, and never properly articulated what ‘stop(ping)’ him meant? And is ‘pressure’ a justifiable excuse for surveillance officer ‘Frank’ to have made a spotty initial identification of De Menezes as ‘European’ (which his features were), having been distracted by a call of nature, but to then to change his mind to being unsure if he was failed suicide bomber Hussain Osman, despite there being no resemblance whatsoever? For a lay person, terrified of the potential suicide bombing wave perhaps, but a trained surveillance officer?

Was it fear, pressure or bravery which allowed the surveillance team on the train to either  misidentify De Menezes as Osman or fail to inform C2 and C12 otherwise, when other passengers on the train confirm they had plenty of time to determine De Menezes clearly wasn’t dark-skinned in appearance (approx 5 mins in):

Vodpod videos no longer available.

And what about the surveillance officer on the bus whose positive identification of De Menezes as Osman legitimised C2 to open fire when he eventually arrived? Could fear or pressure have caused him not to notice that De Menezes was Caucasian (which Osman was not)?

“I heard over the radio that there was a surveillance officer on the bus and I heard them say ‘this was definitely our man’.”

When asked what else he heard as he pursued the bus in a silver Mercedes with two other firearms officers, he said: “I heard over the radio that he was nervous (he wasn’t), acting strangely (he wasn’t) and that he was standing up in the stairs acting very twitchy (he wasn’t).”

C2 said it was the greatest threat he had faced during 17 years as a specialist firearms officer.

He said: “I have been in the firearms unit for a number of years and we have never faced a threat like that.

“It occurred to me that it was very likely, sooner or later, that we were going to have to confront these people and, if it all went wrong, we were aware the consequences were huge.

“It did occur to me that I might not get home if it all went wrong.”

Or maybe he never said it at all:

One of the firearms officers told the jury he heard surveillance officers positively identify the suspect over the radio. The surveillance officer in question contradicted this in court.

And then there’s the above video, which reports that C2 said his actual reason for opening fire was De Menezes getting up from his seat (he did) and approaching him in a threatening manner (he didn’t). Maybe it was fear or pressure which caused him to shoot him anyway, but if that’s true, wouldn’t that have justified him shooting pretty much anyone? Is that what we’re really saying, that a highly trained police officer should be able to justify trigger-happiness through ‘fear’, ‘pressure’ or ‘bravery’ (via the spin of their colleagues)? And if, as the jury maintains, he did lie about De Menezes’ movements (and bear in mind with then-Commissioner Sir Ian Blair’s deliberate obstruction of the IPCC from investigating immediately all participants in the killing had time to confer and indeed change evidence) doesn’t that mean he shot him for no reason? Can that be justified by the context in which they were operating? Hugh Muir says:

Let’s look at what the judge decided. He said no reasonable person having heard the evidence could conclude that what occurred was murder. That’s surely right. Whatever happened underground at Stockwell, there was no malice aforethought. It was a horrible and scary time. Those of us who live in the capital well remember it. People had died on 7/7 and had been maimed in the most horrible circumstances and the talk was of an immediate repetition, of young men queuing up to martyr themselves. The context is important.

I don’t agree. If I were let loose with a gun the context would be everything, yet these were supposedly highly trained firearms officers. They should and must be held to the highest possible standards at all times. When does gung ho become malice? When do unchallenged racism and trigger-happiness become murder or manslaughter? When does arriving inexplicably late mean you rely on more than a single, uncorroborated (and by then dated) confirmation of the subject’s identity before opening fire? Isn’t malice aforethought an execution without any reason? Yesterday afternoon however the Independent Police Complaints Commission and Crown Prosecution indicated their level of interest in pursuing charges of perjury against the officers:

The Independent Police Complaints Commission said Ms Wistrich’s call for a perjury inquiry was “wrong”.

The Crown Prosecution Service said it had not received any referrals in relation to perjury charges.

A spokesman for the police watchdog said: “It is wrong to construe that there has been possible perjury from the findings of the jury because they were asked to decide on the balance of probability.

“The jury could not indicate whether they believed certain witnesses were mistaken or lied.”

Erm they answered the Coroner’s question – did C12 issue an ‘armed police’ warning? No. Did De Menezes stand up when confronted with the kill team? Yes. Did he approach them in any way? No. All the police said all three statements were true, the witnesses said otherwise and the jury agreed. No perjury? Really?

“Noone set out that day to kill an innocent man,” said Sir Paul Stephenson.

Yet by the end of the day Jean Charles De Menezes had been killed, the Metropolitan Police had initiated a cover-up of the truth and started smearing his name to justify their actions. Cowardice, incompetence or something more?

Jean Charles de Menezes Memorial

At 10:03am on 22nd July 2005 Jean Charles de Menezes was killed by the Metropolitan Police, the day after an attempted second wave of suicide bombings on the London Underground. He was mistaken for a suicide bomber he didn’t even resemble, was never challenged, never questioned, never had the chance to identify himself, yet upon sitting in his seat on his tube train into work, he was attacked by multiple members of a Met kill team who simply held him down and shot seven bullets into his head. Later in the day Sir Ian Blair reported that he had been wearing clothing resembling a suicide bomber, had run into the station upon being challenged, thus justifying what was still an erroneous killing. None of that was remotely true.

De Menezes was the first victim of the Metropolitan Police’s Operation Kratos – a shoot-to-kill policy to be used against suicide bombers, borrowing from Israel’s example of killing first and asking questions later. Yet instead of apologising or explaining, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair instead tried to block the initial inquiry:

Sir Ian Blair personally ordered that independent investigators be denied access to the scene where an innocent man had been shot dead by police after being mistaken for a suicide bomber, it emerged yesterday.

The commissioner of the Metropolitan police wrote to the Home Office to block an independent investigation into the death of Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell tube station on July 22. By law the Independent Police Complaints Commission should have been called in by the Met to investigate the case.

During the later health and safety prosecution against the Met, they doctored photos of Jean to suggest there were similarities between him and Osman, said there were traces of cocaine found in his body (irrelevant if true) and that he had overstayed his visa illegally. It was an entire drip-fed campaign of character assassination, no doubt designed as a last gasp attempt to justify the killing in the public’s mind.

The Met was found guilty in said trial, and the Stockwell One Inquiry by the IPCC listed numerous fundamental failings by the force, including the still-unexplained four hours it took for the firearms team to arrive, and the oddly contradictory orders of then Commander Cressida Dick. Surveillance logs were even altered, yet none of the officers involved in his killing has had disciplinary action taken against them, despite the guilty verdict against the Met. The inquiry also criticised:

(then Commander Cressida) Dick for failing to make it clear that her instruction to “stop” De Menezes did not mean that she wanted him shot. It was revealed that she missed part of a briefing because she was sent to the wrong room and she had been unaware how far out of position a firearms team vital to the operation had been.

De Menezes was followed from a south London address police believed was used by a terrorist suspect. He was supposed to be stopped by elite armed officers, but despite being ordered to get to the scene at 5am, they took more than four hours and were out of position and unable to stop De Menezes until he entered the underground station.

A bunch of armed and incompetent, trigger happy Met thugs then murdered Jean Charles de Menezes in cold blood:

The report says “it may be of significance” none of the 17 passengers heard any police warning, adding: “There is significant doubt as to whether they shouted this in the carriage.” All eight police in the carriage claimed the warning was given.

Incompetence, murder and corruption. We can only hope that the upcoming inquest will provide even a meagre measure of justice for him and his family. The photos are mine, and are of the third anniversary memorial of his death, at events both at Stockwell tube station and the Houses of Parliament. The folder can be accessed separately here.

Mayor BoJo

I’m aghast.

Was Ken brought down by Gordon Brown’s poisonous effect on the Labour Party? Was it the £25 4×4 congestion charge? Was it a backlash against his embracing of London’s diversity or his meeting Yusuf Al-Qaradawi? Was it his support for Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez or his failure to get the tube running properly? Was it his support for the corrupt Sir Ian Blair, or the street crime which spiralled out of control, despite the figures the Metropolitan Police lazily fell back on? Worse still was it Brian Paddick’s failure to direct his supporters’ second votes to go to Ken?

Boris Johnson isn’t a fan of ethnic minorities, homosexuals, poor people or London for that matter, yet London has just voted him Mayor. London elected someone with the right attitude and experience for two terms, then reflected and decided “he’s been in the job too long” and supplanted him with a bumbling oaf of a man, who’s never prioritised London’s affairs as an MP, and doesn’t support measures such as the congestion charge which have already been proven to improve London’s environment. Seems a bit bonkers doesn’t it? But whilst extremely upsetting and worrying, it was actually quite predictable.

The diversity agenda quite simply doesn’t operate in a straight line. Livingstone came in with the creation of the job in 2000 promising genuine change, and he delivered. More than anything he set about breaking the disproportionate privilege previously only held by the white middle-class – the funding of ethnic minority groups, the congestion charge, the promotion of ethnic and subcultural events like Pride by City Hall – Trafalgar Square has never been busier, more educational or diverse – these have all acted to raise the profile and power of London’s minorities. Except a) now there’s more of a level playing field they’re all flexing their muscles in ways previously unthinkable and b) the middle classes will never overwhelmingly support the championing of policies, approaches or attitudes which act in others’ best interests.

So Ken was in large measure a victim of his own success. But the Guardian is also right I think – a perception of arrogance, being above what the voters might want – also did him in. Was the Oliver Finegold affair his Monica Lewinksy moment? Maybe, in that it didn’t reflect badly on him in his job, but was a distraction he could have done without, and:

(whilst) every success brought acclaim (it) also seemed to erode his sense of humility. The line between self-belief and arrogance can be a thin one. Self-belief was a essential component of the construct Livingstone had so successfully sold to the public over almost 30 years. Arrogance, descending all too frequently into shows of petulance, only served to degrade it.

That’s a really strong analysis I think. He was right to battle the disgusting Evening Standard, but it was a pointless battle. He was right to bid for the Olympics, but London wanted to hear he wanted it for community and sport, not merely for the development money (which was, after all, a prime priority for his position). He may have championed gay rights with his partnership register (the precursor to civil partnerships), but his open support of Islamist cleric Yusuf Al-Qaradawi compromised a key component of his support from the gay community. Was he right in saying the right wing tabloids didn’t represent Al-Qaradawi’s views fairly? Probably. But he also refused to acknowledge that the cleric might have misrepresented his real views to him too. And then he really backed the wrong horse with Sir Ian Blair (whom Boris now needs to fire from chairing the Metropolitan Police Authority, as promised). Supporting a Metropolitan Police Commissioner who remained more concerned with saving his own neck following his corrupt attempt to block the investigation into the Met’s murder of Jean Charles de Menezes was just bananas. With people’s experience of street, knife and gun crime escalating out of control in Ken’s last term, he could then never say he was the Mayor of law and order.

It’s the worst result we could have expected – London even now has the BNP in the Assembly. I hope at least that a London which has become more political than at any time since the 80s will still have the courage to ignore the Evening Standards of this world and hold this new bunch forcefully to account. But given how stupid certain elements in London have been this last week – voting for an unqualified, elitist, celebrity (George W anyone?) idiot because it’s “time for a change” – things don’t look positive. At least the 2012 Olympics, which most of us believe will be a shambles will be presided over by a shambles. Just don’t forget what this man really thinks of diversity, Ken’s championing of which was chiefly responsible for winning the bid and putting London back on the map:

Vote Paddick

It’s the London Election at last. All the lies, slander and garbage printed by the disgusting and disreputable Evening Standard can now get shoved to one side and the candidate who really is prepared to do what is needed the most in London can win. That candidate isn’t Boris Johnson. Even if you discount the racist and homophobic comments and articles in his past, it’s been conclusively proven that his platform is a lie. When pushed his transport budget is an outright lie. When pushed his sudden Damascene conversion to supporting diversity is a lie.

In my mind, Paddick’s priority of reforming the governance and operating culture of the Metropolitan Police is the single biggest issue for London. Crime isn’t getting better, whatever the statistics show. The Met isn’t getting any less racist or homophobic – the stats on the former show increasingly racist outcomes, the latter problem is known even by their Commissioner, who is at the least borderline corrupt for attempting to inhibit the investigation into the murder of Jean Charles de Menezes. Paddick insists his priority is to chair the Metropolitan Police Authority himself and thereby overpower Sir Ian Blair when he lapses into ‘old Met’ behaviour. Ken Livingstone, despite his many strengths and achievements, isn’t offering any change for the Met at all – merely to add more to their number. The days of them operating as a quasi-autonomous militia really have to stop, and Paddick has stated his intention many times in hustings I’ve attended to modernise and reform the way they operate.

Given that Paddick’s gay himself, it’s hard to imagine him not supporting the diversity which makes up London, the promotion of which has been one of Livingstone’s finest achievements.

Of course he hasn’t a chance of winning, but this is where proportional representation gets fun. Vote Ken for your second choice. There’s no way of letting Boris Johnson through in that way, don’t worry. When the first votes are tallied, all but the top two candidates are simply knocked out and their second votes are reallocated. Paddick 1 Livingstone 2 allows you to vote what’s right and get the right overall outcome too.

Don’t let the Tories screw this city up yet again. Ken’s done a lot in the last 8 years to fix the problems they caused, and he’s done extremely well. Environmentalism, poverty reduction, buses, an initial improvement in police numbers, innovations in housing, and support for London’s multitude of ethnic and subcultures – all of these have made London better after the hatchet job inflicted on London from the mid-80s. Does Ken have the answers to take it from here? Not enough of them I’d argue, but this was the Mayor who brought the Olympics to London not for the sport, but to tap into the vast regeneration funds to make this place better. He needs to continue what he started.

Isn’t PR fun, being able to support two candidates at the same time? And I’m going to vote Green till it hurts for the London Assembly. They can and have done wonders already at local level.

Glad to be Gay?

Being gay is, was and will remain an act of rebellion – the act of breaching a fundamental social norm may have the law almost fully codified now to set up equality under the law, but people are far behind. The Stonewall ‘Serves You Right’ survey shows an expectation of disadvantage in key public services, particularly the police and criminal justice system, which is frequently borne out.

One in five lesbian and gay people expect to be treated worse by police than a heterosexual if they report a crime, while a quarter think they would be treated worse than other victims of crime if they reported a homophobic hate crime.

More than a third of lesbian and gay people, including half of those over the age of 50, think they would be treated worse than a heterosexual if they were suspected of committing a crime. Nearly a third think they would be more likely than heterosexuals to be asked for their identity cards, should these be introduced, if police suspected they were gay.

One in six think they would be treated worse by a magistrate for a minor offence because they are lesbian or gay, while three fifths think they would face barriers to becoming a magistrate because of their sexual orientation.

The Sexual Orientation Regulations, age of consent equalisation, repeal of Section 28, and diversity agendas in certain police forces and private firms are all supposed to prevent negative outcomes for gay people. But the act of coming out is still taboo – people just don’t admit it. In order to get that far, out gay people must challenge and reject all sorts of conformist thinking and behaviour. And no matter that Graham Norton is the BBC’s Saturday night host or that the Royal Navy parades at London Pride, that remains frowned upon by the majority, who need predictability, an absence of challenge and change in order to manage their lives. I’m sorry I really don’t want to lead a ‘straight’ life – understanding and living the nuances of this world is far more meaningful.

Former Prime Ministers who bleat their support for gay rights make their beds with religious organisations, who insist their right to discriminate (based only on belief) trumps basic human rights. The sporting community doesn’t dare allow what must be many prominent gay footballers to come out for fear of violence, loss of income, transfer fees and status. Justin Fashanu anyone? His own brother John condemned him (although later apologised), as did his manager Brian Clough – have either of them been looked down on since? To this day Justin Fashanu is the only professional footballer in the world ever to have come out.

The Home Office doesn’t acknowledge systematic persecution of gay men in Iran and other Middle Eastern Islamic countries, provides inadequate training on LGBT issues at the very least to its asylum staff, doesn’t stamp out homophobia within asylum detention centres, and even the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police admits institutional homophobia holds it back. Despite his own wish in this area, his dogged defence and colllusion in the cover-up of the Met’s murder of Jean Charles de Menezes has meant the force hasn’t been so distracted as to make no notable progress since 2005. The Gay Police Association acknowledges the inexorable rise of homophobia merely within the force, let alone against the public (which includes not just the people they are supposed to protect from harm, but also people they arrest). Laws can change quickly, but attitudes and cultures don’t just change at a different pace, they’re affected by all sorts of other social factors and priorities.

It was presumed some years ago that as Stonewall’s legislative successes became almost total, that there would be a need not just to wind the organisation up, but that old fashioned direct-action campaigners such as Peter Tatchell had had their day. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s true that professional lobbying by people prepared to be ‘insiders’ is needed to make change happen. But Tatchell and others realise quite rightly that the act of coming out will likely always make us outsiders when it comes to the crunch, and that the disadvantage which will always be thrown in our direction (maybe not overtly anymore) must be stood up to. Will Stonewall’s campaign to stop anti-gay bullying in schools be a watershed or just preach to the converted? As schools struggle with budgets and other priorities enforced from a target-driven government, it remains to be seen.

Of London, Elections and Police

Controversy is raging tonight – is the Metropolitan Police Authority witholding publication of its report into the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes for political reasons or not? The Evening Standard (who, remember hate Ken Livingstone’s guts, and Ken is Sir Ian Blair’s biggest political patron) says:

Today, however, the Metropolitan Police Authority admitted publication of the report had been delayed because of “political sensitivities” surrounding the mayoral and London Assembly elections.

A spokesman said the report into the 2005 shooting had still not been completed but had been held over because of the election “purdah“. The spokesman added that there was the possibility of “people making political capital out of it”

Could it be that the report is damning towards the Met’s behaviour and their apologist leader at a time when Ken Livingstone is fighting for his political life? Wouldn’t withholding publication at such a vital time be pretty shady? But wait, that’s not all that’s going on. Another spokesman (the same one? A different one? A *cough cough* real one?) contradicted the normally *guffaw* reliable Standard, saying:

“It is a gross misinterpretation to allege that the MPA Stockwell scrutiny report has been delayed because it is critical of the Commissioner, or for political reasons.”

“The scrutiny was set up to look at lessons learnt and new processes put in place to prevent such a tragedy happening again. It is not specifically about the Commissioner.”

“Scrutiny panel members have not seen a draft report and therefore it is completely misleading to make any assumptions about the contents.”

“The timetable for completion of the report has slipped due to the huge volume of evidence presented to the panel and the meticulous analysis required to complete the report. The panel members unanimously decided to extend the timetable for the production of the report.”

“The report is not yet written, work is ongoing and we will present the report to the full Authority before the summer. The report will be publicly available.”

But the damage is done. Lib Dem Brian Paddick (who has ruthlessly attacked Ken Livingstone), has used the story to further his platform of demanding the ousting of Blair and his unconditionally supportive patron Livingstone. In an election where the issues of crime and accountability of the Metropolitan Police are significant, the timing of this report (whatever the truth is) couldn’t be worse for Blair. We can only hope, despite the target of the Standard’s attack having been Livingstone. Whatever the truth is, Brian Paddick is right when he says:

“Londoners deserve to know the truth. If this report has been withheld for political purposes, this proves there is need for radical change in the way London and the Metropolitan Police Authority are led.”

There’s need for it anyway. The Metropolitan Police is anything but accountable, in very large measure because of Sir Ian Blair’s failure in reforming the service, stemming directly because of his dishonest behaviour in trying to block the initial investigation into Jean Charles de Menezes’ murder, and Ken Livingstone’s refusal even to criticise him one iota. The elected London Assembly tried to impeach Blair, but the MPA voted against a motion of no confidence in him shortly afterwards. Brian Paddick and Boris Johnson have both said if they win they will chair the MPA themselves; Johnson saying he would remove Blair, Paddick already voicing putative successors’ names. I hope that, should Ken yet win, he’s listening, but there’s no indication of anything but unconditional support for a force and Commissioner which are failing Londoners.