Prime Minister backs beleaguered Met chief

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Sir Ian claimed yesterday that he was not informed of Jean Charles de Menezes' innocence until 24 hours after he was killed at Stockwell Tube station in south London by police hunting suicide bombers. By that stage the commissioner had already asserted that the shooting was "directly linked to the ongoing and expanding anti-terrorist operation".

He is resisting calls, led by the dead man's family, to resign over the killing amid accusations that Scotland Yard tried to cover up details of the disastrous mistake. Brazilian officials are expected to fly to the UK today to question those investigating the circumstances of Mr de Menezes' death.

Downing Street indicated that the Prime Minister, who has been briefed on holiday on the controversy, gave unqualified backing to Sir Ian. Asked if he had full confidence in the commissioner, a spokeswoman replied: "Yes."

Earlier, the Deputy Prime Minister gave a similar message of support, but made clear his dismay over the Metropolitan Police's handling of the crisis.

Asked on BBC's News 24's Sunday programme if Sir Ian enjoyed his "full and unqualified" confidence, Mr Prescott also replied: "Yes."

But he criticised Scotland Yard over an offered £15,000 ex-gratia payment ­ not intended as compensation or affecting legal action ­ to Mr de Menezes' parents. The offer was made just five days after the killing, by a senior Metropolitan Police officer without the family's lawyers present.

They rejected it, condemning the move for insensitivity and because it was made in a complex legal letter in English to a family who only speak Portuguese.

Mr Prescott said he had not seen the letter, but added: "I think it would be terrible if it was done that way. It does sound not a very sensitive way to deal with such a difficult matter."

He refused to rule out a public inquiry into the shooting, but urged people to wait for the conclusions of the inquiry by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC). He acknowledged: "There are matters of great concern here. I wouldn't want you to think for a moment that I am entirely happy with the events that happened. I think nobody is ­ it was a terrible tragedy that that young lad was killed."

In an interview with the News of the World, Sir Ian said he first learnt of Mr de Menezes' innocence the morning after the killing on 22 July. " Somebody came in at 10.30 [on 23 July] and said the equivalent of 'Houston we have a problem'. He didn't use those words but he said: 'We have some difficulty here, there is a lack of connection'.

"I thought, 'That's dreadful, what are we going to do about that?'"

He denied accusations of a cover-up, pointing out that he brought the case to the attention of the Home Office and the IPCC.

But Keith Hellawell, the former chief constable of West Yorkshire, told Sky News: "If it is shown he completely misled the British public, then I don't think he could continue in office."

Gareth Peirce, whose firm Birnberg Peirce is representing the de Menezes family, said: "The question of the police going to Brazil to speak to Jean Charles' parents was just one of many examples where the police appeared to be trying to ensure that the family did not have legal advice at important moments."

Ms Peirce, who has condemned Sir Ian for "extreme negligence" over the information he put out about the killing, complained of "a catalogue of disturbing features of this from the start to finish and I suspect they haven't finished yet".

A statement from Scotland Yard said: "We can confirm a letter signed by the Metropolitan Police solicitors has been passed to representatives of Mr de Menezes' family which provides a £15,000 ex-gratia payment. The letter is very specific that this sum does not inhibit any future claim that the family may have against the Metropolitan Police Service and this point was reiterated at the meeting with the family in Brazil."

But the family told The Mail on Sunday they had been pressured into meeting Deputy Assistant Commissioner John Yates, from the Met, without their lawyers. Mr de Menezes's brother, Giovani, said: "They thought we were poor people, stupid people. We may be poor but we are not that stupid. We will not exchange money for my brother's life ­ but we will punish them. "

Meanwhile, it was claimed yesterday that CCTV tapes depicting Mr de Menezes' last moments were handed out to police but returned blank.

Tube Lines, the company which runs Stockwell station, said it had not been aware of any faults on its cameras on 22 July.

The Mail on Sunday quoted a senior transport union official as saying: " After the incident, the police took the tapes away. When they brought them back three or four days later, they said, 'These are no good to us. They're blank.'"

Writing in The Independent today, Ann Cryer, a Labour member of the Commons Home Affairs Committee, said the existence of a "shoot-to-kill policy" disturbed her. She said Sir Ian and Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, must also explain why there was a five-day delay before the IPCC began its inquiry.

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