PM leads the defence of Blair as criticism mounts

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The Prime Minister led attempts to shore up Sir Ian Blair's position as Metropolitan Police Commissioner yesterday but doubts are growing within the Government whether he can survive the official report into the death of Jean Charles de Menezes.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) paints a damning picture of events leading up to the death of the innocent Brazilian electrician mistaken for a suicide bomber.

Leaks from the report - combined with the fallout from the bungled anti-terror raids in Forest Gate, east London - have renewed the speculation over Sir Ian's chances of survival.

But Tony Blair said last night: "I retain complete confidence in Sir Ian Blair as the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. And more than that, I retain complete confidence in our police and our security services in tackling the terrorist threat we face."

He added: "This is not the moment to question either our Police Commissioner or the police or the security services, who - in my judgment - are doing a fine job in protecting this country."

Sir Ian won further top-level backing from the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, as well as the Association of Chief Police Officers and Len Duvall, the chairman of the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA).

However, Tony McNulty, the Police Minister, has betrayed Government doubts over the Commissioner's future when he offered his support "at this stage" to Sir Ian.

And a senior Whitehall source said yesterday: "There are concerns whether he is able to command the confidence of the police and complaints authority following this spate of damaging leaks against him."

Home Office sources admitted Sir Ian's position had been "seriously weakened" in recent months, blaming his predicament on "not being as good as handling the media as he thinks he is".

The IPCC report focuses on a tragic breakdown of communication in Scotland Yard's control centre on 22 July last year when police were hunting four failed suicide bombers who attempted to set off explosions the previous day.

Mr de Menezes was ruled out as one of the men by a surveillance team but was still followed and shot seven times at close range by officers from a separate unit.

A source who has seen the report described its language as "savage and scathing" and said its analysis of failings by the Met was so hard-hitting that it will severely embarrass the force.

The IPCC report is expected to criticise the performance of Commander Cressida Dick who, as the senior officer in "gold command", was in charge of the operation. One of the issues investigated by the IPCC is whether her orders were clear enough.

In addition, the IPCC scrutinised a police log of the de Menezes killing that appeared to have been tampered with to deflect blame from surveillance officers.

The report has been in the hands of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for almost five months. Its lawyers have been considering whether there are grounds for prosecuting either senior officers or the two marksmen who opened fire on Mr de Menezes. They are understood to have decided there are no grounds for prosecution and will make their conclusions public within weeks. The IPCC report will be published at the same time.

Although it is understood to make few direct references to Sir Ian, it is bound to reignite the controversy over the Met's performance under his leadership.

A leak of the report on Sunday suggested senior Met officers feared within hours that the killing of Mr de Menezes was a terrible mistake, but according to an "IPCC-linked source", did not tell the Commissioner as he was "notorious for taking bad news very badly".

Sir Ian is expected to apologise unreservedly on behalf of his force for the death. But he is also likely to argue that the IPCC failed to take account of the unprecedented pressures his officers were under as they sought the four failed bombers.

Mr Livingstone said he had little confidence in the IPCC, which he accused of leaking its report to undermine Sir Ian's position. He said: "It has almost been a trial by leak. Drip, drip, drip, with reporters being shown bits of reports, all aimed at damaging Sir Ian and the reputation of the police."

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