Thursday, August 18, 2005

We cannot take them at their word

Anyone with experience of criminal justice could have told Mr Hattenstone this. In fact anyone with the merest grain of common sense could have done so. The police are not automatically wicked; but neither do ordinary humans shed weaknesses when they don a uniform. Anyone who has heard accounts of the same events by different witnesses - including police witnesses - knows that the human memory can shape itself to desired ends. Paul Simon had it right when he wrote in "The Boxer" that "...a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest..." He could have added "...and remembers what he wants to remember..."

In any uniformed force fellow-officers are likely to feel "it could have been me". Their natural sympathy for a comrade in trouble leads them to try to cover up the error or at least present it in the most favourable light. This may be understandable, but it is inexcusable. If a member of the public they are supposed to protect dies or is injured by police error, the least we can expect is an honest account.

We don't yet know why Jean Charles de Menezes died. As the story develops it is increasingly hard to imagine what was going through the shooter's mind as he killed a young man who was physically restrained, carrying no bags and wearing too little to conceal a bomb. Whatever his orders, it is hard to conceive the gunman had no doubts.

Police camaraderie seems to have broken down. The prospect of mandatory life sentences for murder is focussing minds wonderfully. The immediate commander is briefing through "police sources" that she gave an order to "take him alive" - albeit an order received (or perhaps given) "five seconds" too late. An intelligence officer outside de Menezes' apartment building claims to have been conveniently "relieving himself" at the crucial moment. Of responsibility, perhaps? The officer holding de Menezes as he was killed has made it clear in the leaked witness statement that he was not expecting the shots. He thought he had made an arrest until his colleagues turned it into an execution.

I would not willingly change places this morning with the officer who fired the lethal shots. Not only does he have his conscience to live with, but the knowledge that his colleagues are preparing to give evidence against him. Their desire to distance themselves from this disgraceful episode is very human, very understandable. I cannot understand, however, how the two Blairs responsible for the "shoot first, question later" policy can go complacently about their business. Tony and Ian Blair did not pull the trigger but by authorising this wicked policy, they ordered the "hit". They should not only resign, but should now stand trial for murder alongside the shooter and his commander.

Guardian Unlimited Politics | Comment | Simon Hattenstone: We cannot take them at their word


Bishop Hill said...

I always thought that surveillance officers worked in pairs so that there was always one set of eyeballs pointing in the right direction.

Tom Paine said...

No doubt all will be revealed when the full evidence is published. How interesting, by the way, that the hard drives went missing from the tube station CCTV cameras. It is claimed this happened the day before but it is suspiciously convenient for a Met Police cover-up. It's also interesting that the independent enquiry will take 3-6 months, whereas the enquiry into the leak of evidence to the media seems to have been handled much more expeditiously, with a secretary already suspended.