Met chief defends bid to block shooting inquiry

The Met Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, responded to growing controversy over his force's handling of the shooting of the electrician Jean Charles de Menezes, 27, by dismissing allegations of a police "cover-up".

MPs said they would interrogate the Metropolitan Police Commissioner about his handling of the crisis at an emergency session of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee on the London bombings next month.

The family and lawyers of the dead man continued to call for a public inquiry into the case and criticised the Met for delaying an independent inquiry.

John Wadham, deputy chairman of the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which is investigating the shooting on a train at Stockwell Tube station on 22 July, stoked the row yesterday when he disclosed that police had resisted the setting up of the inquiry. He said the fledgling commission had won an "important victory" for its independence in overcoming the Met's opposition.

Sir Ian had written to the Home Office in the hours after the shooting inquiring about having an internal police rather than an IPCC inquiry, because he was concerned that secrets about anti-terrorist tactics could be made public. At the time the Met wrongly believed that officers had shot dead a suicide bomber.

Mr Wadham said: "The Metropolitan Police Service initially resisted us taking on the investigation but we overcame that. It was an important victory for our independence. This dispute has caused delay in us taking over the investigation but we have worked hard to recover the lost ground."

Mr Wadham disclosed that he hoped to complete the inquiry in between three and six months.

Sir Ian denied that he had tried to block an independent inquiry to protect his officers. He told the Evening Standard: "These allegations strike to the heart of the integrity of the police and integrity of the Met and I fundamentally reject them. There is no cover-up."

He said: "I and everyone who advised me believed that the man we had shot was a suicide bomber and therefore one of the four people who we were looking for, or someone else.

"It seemed to be utterly vital that the counter terrorism investigation took precedence - the forensics, the ballistics, the explosives."

Scotland Yard said Sir Ian had written to the Home Office, when Mr de Menezes was still believed to be a bomber, because it believed it was "crucial" that the terrorist investigation took precedence over any IPCC investigation.

Sir Ian also said he did not agree that the death of Me de Menezes would define his period as commissioner. "I think what will define that in the eyes of the public is our response to the two bomb attacks and our ability to prevent and detect others," he said.

However, lawyers for the De Menezes family said that by failing to invite the IPCC to start its investigation immediately, police had breached their statutory duty. This "fatal delay of several days" meant vital evidence in the case could have been lost, they said.

Sir Ian will almost certainly have to defend his actions and those of his force when he comes before a special session of the cross-party Home Affairs Select Committee on 13 September. Senior Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs have expressed concern at Sir Ian's handling of the affair.

The Home Office yesterday refused to comment on the issue - two days after Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, was arguing that the public should be "very proud" of the way the police handled last month's bombings.

Gwyn Prosser, Labour MP for Dover, said the gap between early accounts by the police of the death and the actual facts "beggared belief". He said: "Once the full facts started to appear I believe there was a duty on the Metropolitan Police to stop the speculation."

The revelations about the shooting came after documents from the IPCC inquiry were leaked to ITV News. They contained detailed accounts of the shooting of Mr de Menezes which indicated that he had done little to arouse suspicion other than to emerge from a block of flats in south London which had been under surveillance.