Met chief fights for his job as critics force showdown

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The Independent Online

Sir Ian Blair, Britain's most senior police officer, was fighting for his job last night after opponents declared they will seek a vote of no confidence at a crucial meeting in the next 10 days following the conviction of the Metropolitan Police for "fundamental failures" in the operation that led to the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes.

The future of Sir Ian as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police is likely to be decided at an extraordinary meeting of the force's governing watchdog after he issued a robust defence of his record and pointedly ruled out resignation in the aftermath of this week's guilty verdict at the Old Bailey against his force for 19 "catastrophic errors" in the events surrounding the death of Mr de Menezes.

The move came amid growing political pressure on Sir Ian, 54, to step down or face the sack after the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives reiterated their calls for him to take responsibility for the failings on 22 July 2005, when Mr de Menezes was mistaken for a suicide bomber and shot dead by armed police on a Tube train.

Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman and leadership candidate, said Sir Ian's position was "untenable", and David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, wrote to the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, demanding that she order Sir Ian to retire to restore public confidence in the Met.

But the commissioner received robust support from key figures including the London Mayor, Ken Livingstone, and Ms Smith. Ms Smith said he retained her "full confidence" and considered it her job and that of "other responsible politicians" to support those tackling the threat from terrorism.

Conservative members of the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA), which oversees the force, said they would put forward a no-confidence motion against Sir Ian – who has been in his post for two-and-a-half years and is due to end his tenure in 2010 – at a special meeting which must be held within the next 10 days. The Independent understands that a motion will be put to the meeting requiring its chairman, Len Duvall, who has been an outspoken supporter of Sir Ian, to write to Ms Smith stating that the MPA has no confidence in the commissioner and seeks his enforced retirement on grounds of "efficiency or effectiveness".

If a majority of the authority's 23 members backs the motion or a large number abstain, it could make Sir Ian's position untenable. Opponents of Sir Ian, who already have five public declarations of support, said they were confident of obtaining a majority with a further six members privately expressing support for the motion or stating they would abstain.

Richard Barnes, one of four Tory members of the MPA, said: "The judge and the jury said no individual should be responsible [for Mr de Menezes's death] but that means the corporate body must accept this responsibility. In this case that is the commissioner. What we can do is have a special meeting of the police authority to discuss this. We can then take a vote of confidence if Sir Ian Blair does not accept his responsibility. But it's for Sir Ian to make that decision."

The Met was fined £175,000 and ordered to pay £385,000 on Thursday after it was convicted of exposing the public to unnecessary risk under health and safety legislation.

During a four-week trial, the jury heard that police committed a succession of errors, ranging from failure to implement an agreed plan to deploy an armed arrest team outside the block of flats in south London where Mr de Menezes lived to wrongly believing that the Brazilian had been firmly identified as one of the failed 21 July bombers by a surveillance team.

Sir Ian, who said he would not resign after the judge in the Old Bailey case had emphasised there were no "systemic failures" in his force, will face further revelations next week when the Independent Police Complaints Commission publishes its report on the shooting of Mr de Menezes, completed in the aftermath of the shooting but kept secret because of the Old Bailey proceedings.

Aides of the commissioner said yesterday he was at his desk and it was "business as usual".

His supporters condemned the demands for Sir Ian to step down, claiming the verdict against his force made it more difficult for police to combat terrorism by forcing officers involved in high-pressure decisions to hesitate for fear of facing a similar prosecution.

Mr Livingstone said: "I wouldn't put the irresponsible politicians attacking the police commissioner within a million miles of running the kind of anti-terror operations London has had to deal with over the past few years, which have seen many Londoners' lives saved and terrorist cells closed down."

Glen Smyth, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, which represents rank and file officers, said: "Sir Ian has not been treated fairly. The trial judge found there had been no systematic failure within the Metropolitan Police. It is nothing other than naked political opportunism to seek his resignation."