Questions the police must face

Last updated at 10:02 01 August 2005

Why haven't we been told the name of the police officer responsible for shooting dead the 27-year-old Brazilian electrician, Jean Charles de Menezes?

I'd have felt happier that we were trying really hard to find out how this tragic mistake happened if the authorities had identified the officer responsible, especially since they are trying to smear the dead man by implying he was an illegal immigrant. Commander Cressida Dick, the senior Metropolitan Police officer who gave him permission to shoot, has been named. If she can be identified, why not him?

The man who pulled the trigger eight times while Mr De Menezes lay on the floor of a Tube train carriage has been sent off on an all-expenses-paid holiday. According to one news report, this is to shield him from "reckless sections of the media".

What's going on here? No one suggests the shooting of Mr De Menezes wasn't accidental, but sending the officer responsible away on holiday - purportedly to recover from his "trauma" - is an odd response to the investigation.

Surely no decent officer could possibly relax on holiday with such an immense burden on his mind. He'd be desperate to take the inquiry team through why he thought Mr De Menezes was a suicide bomber and to remain available until they'd exhausted their questions. It's as if the police were merely seeking to justify the killing of Mr De Menezes on the evidence that was available to officers on the day, and not lift any other stones which might disclose their culpability in this awful error.

The investigation - like all inquiries into police behaviour - is being conducted by the police themselves. The usual thing is to appoint another force. But the Metropolitan Police have appointed one of their own, retired anti-corruption officer Roy Clarke. Why so?

Evidently the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, wishes to keep the investigation as low-key as possible because there's another inquiry in progress into the fatal police shooting of an inebriated man carrying a table leg in a sack.

Too many of these post-mortems and the public might lose confidence in armed police. If this is the thinking, it's wrong. There is a need for openness.

That a senior Metropolitan police officer has flown to Brazil to offer the bereaved parents an initial payment of compensation does not alter the fact that the Metropolitan Police seems intent on conducting its investigation on the quiet. We the public have been misled woefully about the shocking shooting of Mr De Menezes. Gordon Rayner listed in this paper on Saturday a host of questions in urgent need of answers.

Why wasn't Mr De Menezes given a chance to surrender? Why wasn't he challenged after leaving his home? Why did the police say he was wearing a heavy fleece coat - implying it could have concealed bombs - if it was a thin denim jacket? Why was he said to have vaulted the ticket barrier if he used his Travelcard?

Here in Britain, we like to think we live in an open society. Indeed, we often complain that its openness makes us more vulnerable to terrorists. But the official police reaction to the shooting of Mr De Menezes suggests we are led up the garden path by the authorities when it suits them.

At the same time, they rely on our "vigilance". Four men suspected of the failed London bombings are in custody, thanks largely to their images being captured by CCTV cameras. Is there CCTV film showing the pursuit into Stockwell station of Mr De Menezes? If so, shouldn't we be allowed to see it?

Another thing worries me about the past week. Pictures of the wrecked Tube carriages from the July 7 bombings appeared in our papers last week. They'd been leaked to America's ABC TV network by the U.S. government. Why send to the U.S. government photos deemed unfit to be shown to people here?

The man with answers to most of these questions - Sir Ian Blair - tells a specialist police magazine that the Scotland Yard investigation was "close to genius" and his team did "a fantastic job".

Most of us would agree, were it not for the De Menezes shooting and the cloud of official obfuscation created in order to put our curiosity on hold while they decide for us how this tragic mistake was made.

Arranging a holiday for a policeman who has pumped eight bullets into a prone suspect - however sincere his belief that he was de-activating a suicide bomber - is just not on.

Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith might cause "major embarrassment", we are told, by resigning from the party if it allows two people he believes plotted against him - Vanessa Gearson and Mark MacGregor - to stand as candidates at the next election.

Surely the Tories are now beyond embarrassment, even if IDS demonstrated his estrangement further by eloping to a Caribbean love nest with Ann Widdecombe and taking up smoking crack.

A thong's so wrong

Thongs aren't what they used to be, say retailers.

In 2003, they accounted for 31 per cent of the women's underwear market. Now it's 23 per cent. Among smart folk, the drop is steeper. Harvey Nichols' thong sales have dropped by 43 per cent. No woman of taste would wear a thong, but some men - perhaps a majority of us - like vulgar women, or lust after them, anyway.

Victoria Beckham and model Sophie Anderton are thong birds. Such women can't see what's wrong with drawing greater attention to their privates. Thongs are overtly sexual. They are about as discreet as crotchless knickers. People of taste prefer clothes to be subtle.

Only totally "unputoffable" men can face, unflinchingly, a thong straining above the waistline of a lady's jeans - or, as in the case of a winter holidaying companion of mine last year, her ski trousers, even while it was 10 degrees below freezing.

Voyaging in vein...

Lord Pearson of Rannoch, 63, the Tory peer, says he found himself "standing in the presence of God" after waking up during an operation on his varicose veins.

A man wearing a "greeny brown" tweed suit led him into a cave where he sensed "a masculine presence that felt warm, strong and compassionate".

He received a strong message - "that God was sad because he was losing the fight of good against evil, and sad because people have lost faith.

"I realised this was the message I had to bring back and tell people..." With no disrespect to His Lordship, and his perception of himself as a holy messenger, why should God be at the end of his tether now, a relatively peaceful era, when the world contained so much more evil in the past, even within living memory?

Choc full of Yankee slang

Johnny Depp appears to use Michael Jackson as his model for the chocolate magnate Willy Wonka in the new film Charlie And The Chocolate Factory.

He's fascinated by children, but so repelled by the idea of family that he literally cannot utter the word "parents". There's no mention of his mother, and his father (played by Dracula star Christopher Lee) is a mad dentist who encases Willy's childhood head in a teeth-controlling steel basket.

Mr Depp is unconvincing and the story too absurd, but the child actors are fine, especially Freddie Highmore as the noble Charlie; so is his grandfather, played by the sublime Irish actor David Kelly, who appeared as Basil's cut-price builder in Fawlty Towers.

As a film, though, it's an utter mess. Most irritating is its need to comfort frightened-of-foreigners Yanks by infesting the script with Americanisms and having dollars as the currency in the corner shop, which is run by a black American.

A moral message... from Sinn Fein?

You'd have needed a heart of stone (to paraphrase Oscar Wilde) to listen to Sinn Fein/IRA's Gerry Adams tell a credulous TV interviewer how he'd advised Tony Blair on the likely terrorist consequences of joining America in its invasion of Iraq.

Yesterday there was another darkly amusing moment when Mr Adams's comrade, Martin McGuinness, told the BBC that he "warmly welcomed" the British Army's "demilitarisation" of Northern Ireland following the release of a notorious Republican bomber.

We tie ourselves up in knots wondering if the Koran really sanctions terrorism, and if foreignspeaking imams based in the UK give succour to terrorists by preaching hatred against Britain to Muslims.

Not so long ago we wondered about the position of the Roman Catholic Church and the support given by some of its priests towards Irish Republican bombers - who (unlike Muslim terrorists) didn't need passes of any kind to live here and also had full access to our social services.

Such sensitivity!

Top-of-the-pops James Blunt based his hit song, You're Beautiful, on his relationship with blonde ex-girlfriend Dixie Chassay, we're told. He says each track on his album Back To Bedlam is written from the heart, about his own life and experiences. How original! Who needs warblers who merely make up their ditties?

Mr Blunt is also to be commended for his public relations skills. The story - also published yesterday - about how he is inspired by the brilliant guitarist friend from Harrow school, Henry O'Bree, who killed himself, is most compelling, although some might consider it in poor taste in that it is used to promote Mr Blunt's sensitivity.

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