The shooting of de Menezes: inquiry witness on a collision course

From The Guardian

Ever since the shooting dead of an innocent man who was mistaken for a terrorist, Brian Paddick has been on a collision course with the leadership of his own force. Soon after the police killing of Jean Charles de Menezes on July 22 2005, persistent allegations surfaced from within the Metropolitan police that senior officers feared within hours that the wrong man had been killed.

Within police circles, the name of Deputy Assistant Commissioner Brian Paddick kept coming up as someone who might have information challenging the assertion by his boss, Sir Ian Blair, that the force was unaware for 24 hours of its fatal blunder. Investigators from the Independent Police Complaints Commission interviewed a series of senior officers, including Mr Paddick, about what they knew, and when.

Some inside the force see the decision by Met bosses to try and move Mr Paddick from his job in territorial policing as punishment for his testimony to the investigation. One senior officer said: “This is retaliation for his statement to the IPCC.” Other senior colleagues will dismiss any linkage.

Another possibility is that any move from his post could be linked to an allegation that Mr Paddick leaked information to a BBC journalist concerning the shooting at Stockwell tube station of Mr De Menezes. The alleged conversation was overheard by somebody else in the room, and now the Metropolitan police authority is considering what to do. Mr Paddick is understood to deny the allegation.

Mr Paddick is understood to be unhappy at the proposals to move him from his job and some in the force characterise it as a clear signal that he is unlikely to advance any further.

The IPCC is investigating Sir Ian’s role in the aftermath of the shooting after the De Menezes family alleged the commissioner and his force put out false information. Mr Paddick told investigators in a sworn witness statement that hours after the shooting staff in Sir Ian’s office suspected an innocent man had been killed.

When the allegation first surfaced it was rubbished by the force, leading Mr Paddick to threaten to sue his own force for libel. Officers who give information to the IPCC may gain protection from any reprisal from laws designed to protect whistleblowers.

The Guardian understands several sources have told the inquiry of fears among senior officers that the wrong man had been shot. Other senior officers remain convinced Sir Ian’s statements are accurate and that he will be exonerated.

Over the weekend a second senior officer was named as having told the IPCC that planning was under way within hours to cope with the fallout of having killed an innocent man. Assistant Commissioner Robert Beckley of Hertfordshire police was visiting the Yard on July 22, in his role as a counterterrorism expert with the Association of Chief Police Officers.

The mood among senior officers at Scotland Yard has been poisonous at times in recent months. Last week Sir Ian Blair sent an internal message to staff condemning negative leaks about the force. It has been leaked to the Guardian.

In the message Sir Ian, who has faced a firestorm of criticism since becoming commissioner last year, said the press coverage about him and the force was “distracting” and added: “I will have no truck with those colleagues, senior or junior, who choose to brief negatively. The reason for my concern is not just personal, it’s distracting you from your jobs and your excellent achievement.”

Mr Paddick was the face of the force at press conferences immediately after the July 7 terror attacks on London. He became a hate figure for the right after running a pilot scheme in south London where people caught with small amounts of cannabis were cautioned rather than arrested, to give police time to tackle more dangerous drugs. He is also an openly gay officer with the highest profile in a service that has been plagued by homophobia.

Gareth Peirce, solicitor for the De Menezes family, said of the latest developments: “What does it convey in terms of the family being able to arrive at the truth. It creates a picture of incompetence, lack of professionalism and lack of coherence at every level within the Met.”

An IPCC spokeswoman said its investigation was expected to have been concluded by next month.

A Scotland Yard spokeswoman said: “Discussions regarding senior officer postings are always ongoing between the director of human resources and the officers themselves.”