Livingstone praises Menezes police chief

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Former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone today praised the police officer in charge when Jean Charles de Menezes was shot and hailed her as a "potential" Metropolitan Police Commissioner.

He said Cressida Dick, who commanded the Met's anti-terror operation at the time of the shooting, was one of the "most talented" officers he had worked with.

A jury yesterday returned an open verdict at the inquest into the death of Brazilian Mr de Menezes, whom police mistook for a suicide bomber the day after four botched attacks on the London public transport system.

Firearms officers shot 27-year-old Mr de Menezes seven times in the head on a train at Stockwell Tube station in south London on July 22, 2005, after mistaking him for failed suicide bomber Hussain Osman.

In giving their verdict, jury members rejected police accounts of the shooting and the Scotland Yard argument that the killing had been lawful.

In an interview with the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, Mr Livingstone said police deserved criticism for the errors they made which led to the shooting.

But he praised Ms Dick, adding that she has "Commissioner potential".

Asked if there should be criminal or civil cases brought against Ms Dick and other senior officers in charge on the day of the shooting, Mr Livingstone replied: "No. Cressida Dick is one of the most talented police officers I have ever worked with... She has an incredible record and I hope that her career continues to progress in the police, because I have always considered she has Commissioner potential."

Mr Livingstone, who was Mayor at the time of Mr de Menezes' death, has consistently defended police over the incident, and said today that, if former Commissioner Sir Ian Blair were still in post, he would not regard the inquest verdict as a resignation issue.

"I don't think there's a right or wrong in this case," said Mr Livingstone. "The police have always said they made mistakes - no-one has ever denied that - but under these intense pressures, this is when mistakes happen and they have tragic consequences.

"It's an absolute tragedy. The police would do anything they could to bring back Jean Charles de Menezes, but I think we should be honest about it - he was the 53rd victim of the London bombings."

He said the inquest jury's finding that they could not decide whether the pressure on police in the wake of the July 5 suicide bombs which killed 52 innocent people in the capital had contributed to mistakes being made was "unconvincing".

"The pressures people were operating under were unbelievable," said the former Mayor. "There were four men on the loose who had tried to do suicide bombings. We knew we had a few days at most to catch them before they did it again and got it right. Under those pressures, mistakes will happen."

And he said he was "tempted to trust" the testimony of officers who claimed they identified themselves as armed police before shots were fired over the memories of members of the public who said they did not hear any shouts.

In one of their most damning conclusions, the jurors dismissed claims by firearms officer C12 that he shouted "armed police" before opening fire and disputed that Mr de Menezes had walked towards officers before he was killed.

They concluded that six police failings caused or contributed to the innocent man's death, including a failure to obtain and provide better photographic images of terror suspect Osman for the surveillance team and a failure by the police to ensure that Mr de Menezes was stopped before he reached public transport.

Mr Livingstone said: "The truth is that we don't know much more today than we knew 48 hours after the event. It was a tragic series of errors. Nobody ever thought there was a malignant mastermind behind it all. It has taken the best part of three years and millions of pounds to get to a conclusion which I don't think changes anything.

"It is deserved criticism, because errors were made on the day. We have never had a shoot-to-kill policy in the police before and it was the first time it was really in operation.

"Changes have been made so that the chances of that happening again are much less, but to say it will never happen again - everybody knows I would be lying if I said that. There is a real risk it can happen again in a situation where you could be on a Tube train with someone you believe is a terrorist prepared to kill themselves with explosives strapped round them."

With Coroner Sir Michael Wright ruling out an unlawful killing verdict, the family of Mr de Menezes labelled his inquest a "whitewash" when the open verdict was returned.

A statement, released through the Justice4Jean campaign group, said: "After three months of evidence, 100 witnesses and millions of pounds, the coroner, Sir Michael Wright, has presided over a complete whitewash.

"He has failed on every count of the purpose of an inquest investigation."

And, despite his defence of the police, Mr Livingstone said it was "just wrong" that the jury was barred from returning an unlawful killing verdict.

The family's legal team confirmed that a judicial appeal against the omission of an unlawful killing verdict was ongoing.

Their lawyer, Harriet Wistrich, said the Crown Prosecution Service should consider perjury action against the officers whose evidence was discredited.

Mr de Menezes's mother, Maria Otone, said the verdict made her feel "reborn".

Sir Paul Stephenson, Acting Commissioner of the Met, offered his condolences to the Menezes family, adding that he was "sorry".

He said: "The death of Jean Charles de Menezes was a tragedy.

"In the face of enormous challenges faced by officers on that day, we made the most terrible mistake.

"I am sorry."