Calls mount for Met commissioner to quit

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The Independent Online

Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police commissioner, defiantly rejected opposition calls for his resignation yesterday, insisting that the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes had occurred in the midst of the force's "greatest operational challenge in a generation".

Sir Ian, who had been in the job only five months when the fatal shooting took place, justified his decision to stay, highlighting the trial judge's comments that the failures which led to the tragedy "were not sustained or repeated". He said it would now be his "personal task" to ensure the lessons had been learnt.

He told reporters outside the Old Bailey following the guilty verdict: "This case thus provides no evidence at all of systematic failure by the Metropolitan Police. And I therefore intend to continue to lead the Met in its increasingly successful efforts to reduce crime and deter and disrupt terrorist activities in London and elsewhere in the United Kingdom."

The police chief received the immediate backing of both Downing Street and the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, who said that Sir Ian had her "full confidence". However, she added: "We will consider carefully the implications of the verdict with the police service."

But the shadow Home Secretary, David Davis, said the commissioner's position was now "untenable" and he should stand down to restore public confidence in the police.

Mr Davis added: "The trial has shed light on the serial failures that led to the tragic death of Mr de Menezes. They include failures of organisation, command and operations. The failures were systemic, falling within the clear responsibility of the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police."

The Liberal Democrats' home affairs spokesman and leadership favourite, Nick Clegg, said Sir Ian's resignation was now "unavoidable". He added: "While the ruling undoubtedly raises complex questions about future police operations, the simple priority today is to show that we have a police force in London which is prepared to accept full responsibility for its actions."

In his statement, Sir Ian defended the decision of the Metropolitan Police to plead not guilty to the charges, which will now cost the force £385,000 in legal costs, in addition to the £175,000 fine it must also pay.

He again praised the bravery of the police on the day of the shooting, saying officers were involved in a "race against time" and "doing their best" to handle the threat posed by the failed suicide bombers the previous day. Sir Ian's tenure as Britain's most senior officer cop has been dogged by controversy – not least because of the events at Stockwell Tube station. Described as New Labour's favourite policeman by his opponents, he was heavily criticised after appearing to mislead the public by declaring on the day of the shooting that Mr de Menezes was a suspect – despite later claims that a member of Sir Ian's office had known he was innocent.

A report by the Independent Police Complaints Commission accepted the commissioner's assertion that he did not know a mistake had been made until 24 hours after the shots were fired. However, the IPCC found that Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman had "misled" senior officers by failing to tell them the dead man was not a bomber.

In his statement, Sir Ian backed Commander Cressida Dick, the officer in charge of the operation which led to the shooting. He echoed the remarks of the jury foreman, who said: "In reaching this verdict the jury attaches no personal culpability to Commander Dick."