The assassination of Commissioner Blair

Oh lordy, what about Brown’s reshuffle? One thing’s for sure, you’re not going to rejuvenate a jaded government by bringing back the likes of Margaret Beckett and Nick Brown. In Margaret’s case, although she was a longtime stalwart of the Labour front bench in opposition and even briefly acting leader, so comprehensively has she failed to impress in government that I’d almost forgotten she was foreign secretary. I suppose you could make the argument that they lend a little gravitas to a cabinet full of overpromoted lightweights, but that’s not an argument Gordon might find congenial.

Then you have the inexplicable immortality of Geoff Hoon, Britain’s answer to Martin Cullen. He’s still there! Why?

As for Mandelson… well, you can sort of see some logic in that Gordon wants to protect his right flank from the persistent sniping of the ultra-Blairites. But to bring back Mr Subprime himself, probably the most despised, and certainly the most divisive, man in the Labour Party? That smacks not a little of desperation. A word of advice, Gordon – next time, and there will be a next time, bury the bastard at a crossroads with a stake through his heart.

Meanwhile, trouble amongst the cops with the Tory putsch at Scotland Yard. And to me, this confirms even further that Wacky Jacqui is one of those overpromoted lightweights. It is true that, as she has said, the commissioner’s job is in the gift of the Home Secretary (acting in the name of the monarch) and not the mayor. It is also true that, while the commissioner is accountable to the Metropolitan Police Authority and the mayor is ex officio chair of the MPA, the commissioner is not personally accountable to the mayor. But she could, if she felt so strongly about it, have refused Ian Blair’s resignation and told Boris where to get off. Maybe it wouldn’t have worked – it’s hard to imagine the commissioner carrying on without the confidence of the mayor – but it would have been a better move than accepting the resignation with alacrity and then whining about it like a little girl with a grazed knee.

Anyway, although Boris denies this, it’s fairly clear that party politics was involved, and specifically the identification of Blair as Ken’s cop. But beyond that, there are competing visions of policing at stake. The de Menezes case notwithstanding – and Blair deserves all the odium that’s coming to him for that – there is little evidence to suggest that Blair is the Judge Dredd-style fascist that the left like to paint him as. In fact the evidence suggests that by instinct he’s a liberal reformer, which is why the hardened reactionaries in the Police Federation hate him so much.

And this is where Livingstone comes in. Ken’s big idea for the Met was, post-Stephen Lawrence, to sweep away racist policing. To do that, he had to marginalise the Gene Hunt types at the Yard and forge an alliance with those senior officers who were prepared to get with the programme, Blair in the first instance. This is what led to a situation of hardened factionalism in the Yard, which is a big part of what’s done for Blair. But it also turned out to be damaging for Ken in that, while it was hard to point to concrete examples of changes in the Met culture – you really had to take Blair’s word for it to a big extent – the logic of the Livingstone-Blair alliance also meant that Ken had to defend Blair through every example of his personal ineptitude, and fatally end up defending the indefensible over Stockwell. Blair should certainly have resigned over that, which doesn’t necessarily mean that his knifing by Boris is a good thing.

So it remains to be seen whether this makes any difference to policing. Boris, it’s true, was elected on a platform of being tough on crime, but he was remarkably short on specifics. The problem is that it’s extremely hard to police a city like London, and even harder to police it aggressively without causing riots. Ken, who was Mr Multiculture after all, understood this; Boris may be expected to be less sensitive to the concerns of minorities. It may be the case that the wave of stabbings in the black community opens the door to calls for tougher policing from minorities, but unless you recruit large numbers of black police (or go down the West Belfast route of subcontracting policing functions) then you run the risk of returning to the 1980s, when Brixton was not unlike West Belfast, with the cops in the role of occupying army.

Can the mayor square the circle? Given that this is the man who brought you Boris Island, possibly after a visit to the Spectator drinks cabinet, you wouldn’t want to bet on it.


  1. David Ellis said,

    October 4, 2008 at 1:50 pm

    Blair was brought in to sort out the institutional racism of the Met. He wasn’t very good and as you say deserves all the oprobrium over the shooting of De Menezes however, his ouster by Boris Johnson definitely signals the return to provocative, racist policing of the capital.

  2. skidmarx said,

    October 4, 2008 at 3:40 pm

    Should have been pork-martialled and cashiered (Thanks to Robert Rankin’s “The Da-da-de-da-da Code for that one. And for the line “I’d like to define ‘true’ as ‘what actually happened'”).
    Everything else aside, the de Menezes case really stinks. Either the shooters were under the controlling mind of the senior officers, in which case the latter should be liable, or they weren’t and should be individually liable. I generally suspect the former.

    I think the war against all senior black officers suggests that anything he did for equal ops was only for show, OK as long as it didn’t upset the Golden Circle.

  3. October 5, 2008 at 2:24 am

    Like any huge city in the world, London is indeed difficult to police. The main reason for that is the ongoing social injustice in modern societies, especially those who use the capitalist system.
    No country and no city can be ruled or policed against the will of the people. It is therefore essential to give a vast majority of the citizens a real stake in their community and society. Only then can and will they feel a degree of ‘ownership’ and responsibility. This is the only basis for proper and peaceful policing. When people care for their environment and society, they will look out for each other, protect each other and each other’s property, and create peaceful, prosperous and working communities.

    Sadly none of this exists in the UK, and never has in the history of Britain. The British way has always been to pitch different elements of the population against each other, with a very small, very rich caste of decision makers on top of the pyramid watching and filling their pockets even more. Not much has changed in this regard over the past 1000 years, and I cannot see anything changing soon. There is simply no will to do it, not from politicians (of all parties, with exception of the Green Party), not from the churches and religious groups, and certainly not from those who have great wealth and control the economy. Strangely enough there is not even a will or demand for change from the lower classes, who either accept their downtrodden status with ignorance and apathy, or react against ‘the system’ with violence, crime and – usually futile – political conspiracy.

    As long as the City of London controls the purse strings, Parliament remains a weak and ridiculous waffling shop for the middle classes, and a bunch of irresponsible media moguls are allowed to distort reality with fabricated stories, hype and the appeal to the lowest instincts, there is no hope for any improvement of British society.
    Which means that ruling and policing will become ever more difficult, regardless who is put in charge.

    With regards to Commissioner Ian Blair I agree that he should have resigned after the unlawful killing of Mr. de Menezes, which happened on his watch, no matter if he was personally responsible or not. More than anything else this sad case documents that there is no Justice in the UK that deserves to be called by that word. There are many other examples, too, and they all are pieces of the same jigsaw puzzle. When put together, we see the ugly picture of a country and society that does not function as a proper state, has no proper citizens (just subjects of the Crown) and is unwilling and unable to even recognise its most serious problems.

    If I had a solution to offer, I would not hesitate to do so. But I fear that in the case of the UK we have long passed the state where the patient can be cured and restored to health again. Sooner or later the British society as we know it will simply collapse – with the help of violence or without – and what will come thereafter can only be anyone’s guess.
    What might help in a minor way is the reading of history books and the study of cases how previous societies managed to reorganise themselves after a collapse of their state and system. If it can help will depend on who is doing the studies and who will be strong enough to act and organise the remaining people when the time comes.

  4. johng said,

    October 5, 2008 at 6:48 pm

    Have to admit that this is one argument I simply don’t understand. Why did a section of the left want to nail its colours to the Met chiefs mast? Crazy. I remember someone suggesting that ‘he was the best we could hope for’. I’m all for realism and all that but this really is a step too far. The man deserves to be jailed. Not defended by the left.

  5. Andy Newman said,

    October 5, 2008 at 9:19 pm


    gaoled, surely? but i see I am fighting a rear-guard action on that non-American spelling.

    Bt why on Earth should Blair be gaoled?

    I don’t buy the idea that he has been a fantastic sucess at copmbattting racism in the Met, the problem with all the senior Asian coppers indicates otherwise. But nor do i see that he actually did anything worng personaly over the de menzezes shooting. Or did I miss something?

  6. UK Voter said,

    October 6, 2008 at 8:05 am

    Ian Blair became a political animal from day one, constantly in front of the cameras, and therefore, it is perhaps, quite deserving that he should be removed for political reasons. The Met chief should be a policeman, first, second and third, the public want to see their officers, all 167,000 of them, on the streets, not in front of the cameras preening themselves. I believe we will see Ian Blair try and get into politics, that is my prediction, he won’t succeed of course, because if he goes to Labour, they are destined for the political wilderness.

  7. skidmarx said,

    October 6, 2008 at 10:05 am

    “Or did I miss something?”
    Quite a bit. When the police shot Stephen Waldorf a few years ago because he was driving a yellow mini like the suspect they were chasing, they had to answer for it. Now there seems to be no accountability. There seem to be two main problems:

    1. Under what authority was the decision taken to shoot him? If we cannot know what the Kratos guidelines are or even whether they were in force it is difficult to know but none of this allows the police to act in the reckless manner they did.

    2. Who gave the order and on what basis? If the information the police had is of the poor quality we now know no lawful decision could have been taken to order the shooting. The fact that both Cressida Dick and the shooters can’t identify the order and between her and the surveillance team can’t say who identified de Menezes as Hussein Osman suggests culpability.

    If the guilty officers acted outside guidelines then Blair might be in the clear. But if what happened was the inevitable result once the way he ordered firearms operations to take place came up against the contingencies of the day he’s as guilty as hell and that seems the more likely. Or should the police be allowed to shoot anyone they like and say they were just following orders?

    “gaoled, surely?” Eamonn McCann’s book, War and an Irish Town is dedicated to “The Irish prisoners in English jails”. I’d take his English over yours any day of the week.

  8. Andy newman said,

    October 6, 2008 at 1:49 pm

    Well all of that suggests that someone should be held to account for the de Menzezes shooting, none of it suggests that Sir Ian was so personally culpable that he should be gaoled.

    It seems very unlikely that the instrictions given were so worded that it was an “inevitable result” (to use your words) for an innocent person to be shot.

    Surely, all that would be needed to be proven is that the police were reckeless as to whether or not an innocent person was shot.

    The De Menzezes shooting suggests that there was a systemic failure in the Metropolitan police. It seems highly unpersuasive that Sir Ian was personally involved in the circumstances of that failure.

    Indeed, what is acheived by concentraring on sir Ian’s role is to turn the spotlight way from the institutional failures of the Met’s armed police officers, and the failure of the met to meaningfully confront what went worong and punish those repsonsible.

    That is partly why the Standard and the right wing were so keen for Blair’s scalp – they know that he is an excellent scapegoat – and his sacrifice means that there is now less likely to be any meaningful investigation into who was really responsible, or any change of the racist attitudes in the Met that led to the shooting.

  9. Andy newman said,

    October 6, 2008 at 1:50 pm

    And didn’t another fampus Irishman write “the Ballard of Reading gaol”

    I will take his English over MmcCann’s

  10. ejh said,

    October 6, 2008 at 2:27 pm

    I presume the thesis that either spelling is acceptable may not provide the necessary degree of political clarification generally required in these circles?

  11. skidmarx said,

    October 6, 2008 at 3:51 pm

    I’m not sure I’d necessarily describe what Mr.Newman does as “spelling”.

    ” what is acheived[i before e except after c] by concentraring on sir Ian’s role is to turn the spotlight way [this seems very American.Way to go]from the institutional failures”

    If you are looking to assign legal blame for a homicide, then the controlling mind of the organisation is a good place to start. He set the policy that resulted in A Shoot To Kill without adequate concern of any determination of guilt. After the MacPherson report, Paul Foot wrote something on how the invention of the term “institutional racism” was a cover for the failure to prosecute the racist and corrupt officers involved in the investigation

  12. ejh said,

    October 6, 2008 at 4:06 pm

    If you are looking to assign legal blame for a homicide, then the controlling mind of the organisation is a good place to start.

    Given that you employ the term “legal”, are there any legal precedents that would enable us to accept that proposition?

  13. Andy Newman said,

    October 6, 2008 at 5:44 pm

    Actually there is nothing wrong with my spelling – but i can’t type. which is a muscular coordination thing.

    ejh – you are correct, both spellings are acceptable to normally tolerant people, but only only of them is acceptbale to an irritable and misanthrppic pedant like me

  14. Phil said,

    October 6, 2008 at 5:52 pm

    The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act only became law in 2007, so I don’t think there’s much precedent of any descrption.

    More on Blair and the de Menezes shooting, from the Graun.

    Blair was heavily criticised by the IPCC for blocking their inquiry into the shooting for three days. The delays, the IPCC said, had given officers time to alter a surveillance log and allow conspiracy theories to develop about the shooting.

    When it came to the criminal prosecution of the Met under health and safety laws over the shooting, Blair, sources say, again displayed a lack of a sure touch.

    “He was advised by several senior officers, people close to him, to plead guilty, take the beating and move on. But he insisted that we must plead not guilty in the face of opposition from all around him,” said a senior figure.

    The Met’s defence team went on to mount a brutal character assassination at the trial, suggesting De Menezes might have been high on cocaine and therefore jumpy and paranoid, that he had acted like a suicide bomber, and was aggressive and threatening. The Met released a composite picture intending to show how similar De Menezes was to the suicide bomber Hussain Osman. But it emerged the picture had been distorted, stretched or resized to create a misleading match.

    At the end of the trial the Met was convicted of endangering the public under health and safety legislation and Mr Justice Henriques criticised Blair’s force for adopting “an entrenched position” in refusing to admit any failures in the operation.

  15. skidmarx said,

    October 6, 2008 at 6:17 pm

    In addition to corporate charges it is I think possible for Blair to be charged with homicide even if he didn’t fire the gun, just as members of criminal organisations can be charged for the actions of others. There’s a famous Elvis Costello song about the “Let him have it” case.

    Bill Bryson, the Wapping scab, somewhere makes the assertion that much of the claim that English usage is the original and American the variant is fantasy. I know it is the case with the suffix ‘ize’, which was common to both until in the 19th century the English changed to ‘ise’. I tend to prefer it most of the time, prefer “autumn” to “fall” (sounds so much better, and there’s a logic to the seasons all having six letters),”centre” to “center” (probably not as logical).What I’ve never liked is “gaol”. It’s generally pronounced JAY-ul, which “jail” approximates, and “gaol” certainly does not (In fact I might say it’s a bit gay in the ultra-modern sense).

    Have you evidence that it was Oscar Wilde rather than his publisher or editor that spelled it “gaol”? Was he perhaps just accepting the spelling as was, perhaps above the jailhouse entrance? Is great Irish literature always really big on spelling (that’ll be three quarks for Muster Mark)?

    “the Ballard of Reading gaol”
    Is that when you twock a car and have lots of love that dare not speak its name after it crashes?

  16. Andy Newman said,

    October 6, 2008 at 7:50 pm


    “ise” is still regarded as substandard English by many, hence the common usage of “ize” in broadsheet newspapers, indeed there was an Inspector Morse episode that turned on the fact no educated person would use “ise”.

    What made it ubiquitous was the adoption of “ise” in the British English Microsoft spellchecker – rather more recently than the 19th C.

    With regard to the spelling of gaol, the pronunciation is the same in both cases, and the American spelling has only been common in the Uk for the last thirty years or so. Inceidently, the spelling abouve the door would have been p-r-i-s-o-n.

  17. ejh said,

    October 7, 2008 at 7:49 am

    there’s a logic to the seasons all having six letters

    Not a logic, surely? It may be aesthetically satisfying, but it’s nothing to do with logic.

  18. skidmarx said,

    October 7, 2008 at 8:55 am

    There’s a logic to not caring about extreme nitpicking

  19. ejh said,

    October 7, 2008 at 9:34 am

    It’s like extreme ironing except you have to flatten out the creases in the argument.

  20. October 7, 2008 at 3:34 pm

    Well, gentlemen, many of us are annoyed by the many elements of American ‘English’ that are slipping into proper English all the time. And I am a staunch defender of the proper use of English for all my life.

    But with all respect for our language, I think that this subject – the government of the UK and the policing of the country – is too important to be sidelined by a debate over spelling and the choice of words.

    If you keep debating only over spelling and usage of words, you might still do this one day in a state of complete anarchy. The picture of ivory towers standing forlorn in a burning and devastated landscape come to my mind here.

  21. ejh said,

    October 7, 2008 at 6:30 pm

    And I am a staunch defender of the proper use of English for all my life.

    “I have been”, surely?

    Incidentally, if we ever do find ourselves in a situation of anarchy and desolation, I do hope we will remain concerned to maintain civilised standards. Even suicide notes and messages in bottles should be rendered in proper English where at all possible.

  22. skidmarx said,

    October 8, 2008 at 1:26 pm

    From Redmond and Shears’ General Principles of English Law[7th Ed. 1993]:

    “It is not only the person who actually ‘does the deed’ who is guilty of an offence. The Accesories and Abettors Act 1861,s.8,-‘Whoever shall aid, abet counselor procure the commission of any indictable offence shall be liable to be tried as a principal offender.’ ” [p374]
    ” A participant in offence may be the following:

    (c) a counsellor or procurer That is, one who, prior to the commission of an offence, incites its commission or renders assistance…a person who lends a gun to a villain, knowing he is going to use it in a robbery, cannot escape liability on the grounds that he hoped no robbery would occur”[p375]

    “Employers and corporations
    While neither of these categories are completely exempt or incapable, in practice, circumstances may be such that they cannot be held responsible:
    a master may be liable if:
    (i) he counselled or abetted the offence
    (ii) the servant’s act can be attributed to the master in law
    (iii) the master has delegated the running of his business to the servant
    (iv) where the offence is one of strict liability

  23. Andy newman said,

    October 9, 2008 at 10:39 pm


    Thanks for that, it was big of you to provide a quote that so clearly refutes your own argument that Sir Ian may have committed an offence.

    Clearly, the shooting of de Menzezes is not one of strict liability, the shhoting could not be attributed to Sir Iian in law, and there is no issue of delegation of is role as commissioner of the Met.

    So as Sir Ian clearly did not counsell the officers to behave as they did, nor in any way abet them to act in anyway illegally, he is guilty of no offense.

    I am not sure what crime you think he may have committed?

  24. ejh said,

    October 10, 2008 at 7:33 am

    Why “clearly”?

  25. skidmarx said,

    October 10, 2008 at 9:13 am

    Actually I only included the strict liability part for completeness. If someone is in charge of the use of firearms then it may be that they should be held strictly liable even if death was not a foreseeable consequence of their actions, but not being a lawyer I don’t know if the law sees it like that.

    ” Sir Ian clearly did not counsell the officers to behave as they did”
    He was the boss, he set the policy, he gave them orders. If de Menezes died for any reason other than that the actual shooters acted outside the framework he provided, then he should be found guilty of murder and hung from the highest tree in the county.

  26. Andy newman said,

    October 10, 2008 at 11:50 am

    Well clearly to me anyway.

    Strict liability is where the intention (guilty intention – mens rea) is not applicable – some environemntal legislation for example require only the fact of the action (Actus Reus) regardless of what the person was intending.

    Certainly no death by fire arms would be a question of strict liability, you would have to prove at least recklessness, and for murder premeditated intention.

    I assume that no one is arguing that was a deliberate attempt to muder De Mezezes, what happened was recklessness at some level in the police about whether or not they had lawful excuse.

    Blair cannot have abetted them, because as the extract you provide shows, this requires knowledge that an illegal act will be carried out.

    On counselling, it seems very hard to me to see how you can make counselling fit with reckelessness. Blair would presumably have dele gted authority to someone he beleived to be competant to draw up operational guidelines. To place Sir Ian Blair himself personally at the point of the system where it failed, and argue that he counseled someone to the point of recklessness seems so improbable that i think it is revealed that you are arguing an emotional point not a serious one.

  27. skidmarx said,

    October 10, 2008 at 3:20 pm

    He had command responsibilty. A man was killed by police officers under his command having done nothing more than get on a bus and try to get on the tube. To carry out a shoot-to kill policy on the basis of identifying de Menezes with Hussein Osman is recklessness to the point of unlawful killing. Unless the firearms officers were acting against orders, it is the inevitable result of the command structure Blair put in place that de Menezes would be unlawfully killed.

    If a robber on leaving a bank accidentally discharges his sub-machinegun into a crowd, I think he is liable to be charged with murder, as his recklessness allows the principle of strict liability to be applied.

    ” i think it is revealed that you are arguing an emotional point not a serious one.”
    Well let’s analyse your motives. Is it maybe because your political friends were trying to suck up to Ken Livingstone at the time of the last mayoral election that you can’t admit that the police killed a man unlawfully and Blair was the controlling mind in that offence?

  28. Phil said,

    October 14, 2008 at 6:16 pm

    He had command responsibilty.

    Yes and no. In law, each individual police officer is a citizen serving in the office of constable – they don’t take orders from anyone. In practice, of course, they work on the basis of plans and instructions passed down the chain of command, but there’s still a degree of autonomy – quite a large degree in the case of a senior officer like Cressida Dick.

    To carry out a shoot-to kill policy on the basis of identifying de Menezes with Hussein Osman is recklessness to the point of unlawful killing.

    That’s assuming that everything went to plan – i.e. that the plan was to execute Hussain Osman in cold blood. I think the most we can say is that something went horribly wrong on the day, and that the structures & systems the Met had in place were implicated in de Menezes’ death. A corporate manslaughter trial of the Met would have been very interesting, but when it comes to Blair personally we just don’t have the evidence.

    If a robber on leaving a bank accidentally discharges his sub-machinegun into a crowd, I think he is liable to be charged with murder, as his recklessness allows the principle of strict liability to be applied.

    No, strict liability is a legal term referring to situations where neither intention nor recklessness needs to be proved – as Andy said.

  29. skidmarx said,

    October 15, 2008 at 8:34 am

    “That’s assuming that everything went to plan – i.e. that the plan was to execute Hussain Osman in cold blood.”

    I’m not suggesting that. I’m saying that with an (unlawful) shoot-to-kill plan in operation, death was inevitable given the contingencies of the day. To have the policy in operation when the surveillance operation is so rubbish and they can’t act efficiently enough to stop JC from getting on the tube is extreme recklessness and the immediate cause of his death.
    The family campaign has a great set of solicitors. I think they feel that the police should be held responsible. Try asking them what the law is as all I know is that I know nothing.

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