The British Press on the Shooting of an Innocent Man by Terror Police

Police wait outside Stockwell Underground Station in London July 22 following the shooting of a suspected suicide bomber

Police wait outside Stockwell Underground Station in London July 22 following the shooting of a suspected suicide bomber. (Photo: John D. McHugh / AFP-Getty Images)

London, July 24 — Financial Times (Centrist):

The controversy surrounding the shooting on Friday of Jean Charles de Menezes, a Brazilian electrician living in London, is a serious setback for the capital's police, who are trying to build trust with British Muslims to gain vital intelligence on extremist elements. …

On Sunday, ministers and senior police officers defended a policy of shooting dead individuals suspected of being suicide bombers, in spite of calls from British Muslim groups, human rights bodies and politicians for a public inquiry.

Since the shooting, police have confirmed that two years ago they secretly changed operational guidelines allowing officers chasing suspect suicide bombers to shoot them in the head.

Sir Ian Blair, the chief of London's Metropolitan Police, apologized to the family of the Brazilian man, but left open the possibility that more people could be shot as part of the war on terrorism.

Jimmy Burns and Cathy Newman

London, July 25 — The Daily Telegraph (Conservative):

… Sir Ian is, of course, in a difficult position. These are not normal times: different standards apply to potential suicide bombers than to thieves and muggers. Shooting to disable is not an option when dealing with someone who is eager to immolate those around him. …

It is understandable, indeed laudable, that Sir Ian should want to stand by his officers; and no one doubts that the policemen acted in good faith. But what purpose was served by announcing, six hours after the shooting, that the dead man had been “directly linked” to the investigation?

Sir Ian’s assertion was the latest in a series of confusing statements that have come out of the Met since the July 7 bombings, which have led to sensational and unfounded reports in some newspapers.

We take no pleasure in saying these things. People join the police out of a sense of service. When they go after armed fanatics, they risk their lives for the rest of us. It is with a due sense of gratitude and admiration, then, that we ask whether the Met is getting the leadership it deserves.

London, July 24 — The Daily Mail (Conservative):

… [B]ear in mind that if the Stockwell suspect had been wearing a suicide belt, the officers who shot him would be lauded as heroes and loaded with medals, as well as the thanks of a grateful public.

When this case is investigated, as it is right and proper that it should be, those who do the investigating should take care to put themselves fully in the position of the policemen involved, who must all now be in the grip of the most terrible regret and remorse.

Their superior officers should stand beside them without hesitation. And the public should stoutly resist any attempt to make scapegoats of them.

This is a war, but not of our own making. In the face of unreasoning hate and murder, even reasonable force will sometimes be used mistakenly. But if we are to defend ourselves at all, such horrors are — sadly — bound to happen.

London, July 25 — The Independent (Liberal):

… The number of times the British police have fired guns in recent years is, thankfully, minute. Those of our police officers trained in the use of firearms appear to be controlled and professional. …

That does not mean there are not serious questions to be asked about the police conduct of the incident — but they lie not so much with the officer who pulled the trigger as with the quality of the intelligence on which he acted.

It is important to wait for the full facts to emerge and not to rush tojudgment. But one thing is already clear. This shooting has unhappily taken the focus away from the hunt for the four would-be bombers who are still at large. …

London, July 25 — The Times (Conservative):

… [N]either the police nor the public can recover from this setback until the circumstances have been examined. The inquiry by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which begins today, should scrutinize any weakness in police procedure, question the operational guidance given to SO19, the special armed force trained by the SAS, and look again at the system of volunteer armed police.

… Britain is now facing a threat amenable neither to reason nor restraint. The shoot-to-kill policy, introduced by Lord Stevens, Sir Ian’s predecessor, is, sadly, inevitable. That fact is acknowledged by civil libertarians, moderate Muslim leaders and politicians alike.

Britain’s hunt for the bombers must not be compromised by the shooting at Stockwell. But neither must it become a myth of police brutality to recruit young men to extremism’s ranks.

London, July 25 — The Guardian (Liberal):

… No one needs to tell Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan commissioner, just how serious this blunder was. Sir Ian has been at the forefront of promoting community policing, expanding community support officers, and promoting principles of neighborhood policing. Only last week, he reaffirmed his belief in the principle that it is not the police or intelligence services who defeat terrorists, but the public and communities. Now public trust in the police in ethnic communities, which holds a key to identifying terrorists, has understandably been badly shaken.

But the biggest mistake was not to properly prepare the public for the sustained campaign of violence facing the country. Even when Mr. Menezes was thought to be a bomber, witnesses were shocked by the ferocity with which he was killed. More should have been done to prepare the public for the forceful response needed to protect them. …

London, July 25 — The Economist (Conservative newsmagazine):

… Sir Ian insisted on Friday that the police crackdown was “targeted against criminals … not against any community.” However, his officers’ shooting of an apparently innocent man may undermine any hopes of improved co-operation [with British Muslims] — though things would have been far worse had he turned out to have been a Muslim.

The prime minister, after consulting with opposition leaders, has proposed a further round of anti-terror laws, on top of those passed, often in the face of strong parliamentary resistance, since the 2001 attacks in America. …

However, stringent measures are already in place in Britain so it is unclear how much reassurance such new laws would give the public. Worse, there is a risk that, if such laws are hastily drawn up and indiscriminately applied, they would further alienate young British Muslims. If so, they could be every bit as counterproductive as some of the measures introduced by past British governments, supposedly to prevent Irish republican terrorism, which only served as a recruiting-sergeant for the I.R.A.