The Scotland Yard commander who launched the surveillance operation that led to the fatal shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes sought to defend the police yesterday, saying: "we did our best".
The Metropolitan Police denies breaking health and safety laws when officers shot Mr de Menezes seven times at point blank range inside Stockwell Tube station on 22 July 2005, after mistaking him for a suicide bomber.
On the third day of the prosecution at the Old Bailey, Commander John McDowell blamed the "difficult circumstances" at the time of the shooting, which came the day after an attempted "second wave" of suicide bombings on London Transport following the July 7 attacks that killed 52 commuters.
Mr McDowell was the "gold" commander who sent a surveillance team to the block of flats in Scotia Road, south London, where they believed they would find Hussain Osman, who was involved in the attempted attacks the previous day. The prosecution has sought to demonstrate that as well as killing an innocent man, the police put the public at risk by allowing their target to board two buses and a Tube train.
Mr McDowell told the jury: "I have since that time constantly thought about what other potential tactics or strategy might have been available to me because of the outcome of this tragic set of circumstances. I have done that on a weekly, if not daily, basis. I remain of the view that I and we did our best that morning to mitigate what was clearly a threat to the public in very difficult circumstances." Clare Montgomery QC, for the prosecution, asked why, despite Mr McDowell launching the operation at about 5am, the firearms team had still not arrived at the flats by the time Mr de Menezes, 27, left for work more than four hours later.
Asked by Mr Justice Henriques if this delay was an "acceptable passage of time", Mr McDowell said it was the "quickest time that that team could be assembled and deployed with all the considerations that were bearing upon us that morning".
The judge then asked: "Could that have been done differently?" Mr McDowell replied: "With hindsight, it is entirely conceivable it could have been."
The jury was shown photographs of Osman and Mr de Menezes to compare. Ronald Thwaites, QC, for the defence, asked: "How can the police be criticised for their lack of certainty about the identification of Mr de Menezes?... [Not] every mistake is a crime."
Detective Chief Superintendent Timothy White, who had earlier authorised firearms to be used to detain the suspected bombers, told the court that the pursuit of the failed bombers was the most dangerous operation police had been involved in.
"We never faced a suicide bomber or a manhunt of this significance in police history," Det Ch Supt White said.
The judge asked him if there were circumstances under which the suspects might not be immediately arrested. "With public safety paramount and the positive identification of a suicide bomber, we'd do our utmost to detain that person," he replied.
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