Richard Ingrams' Week: For all this talk of lessons learnt, nothing has changed

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The talk from the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith about a "split-second decision" in the Stockwell shooting rang bells with me. The identical expression was used in the case of another suspected terrorist some years ago. His name was Harry Stanley and he was shot dead in 1999 by police when leaving a pub in Hackney. Earlier a caller from the pub had told the police that Stanley was an Irishman and that he was carrying a gun.

Both pieces of information were false. Stanley was Scottish and he was carrying a table leg. But like Jean Charles de Menezes he was gunned down when he appeared to threaten them as the result of what the police marksmen called a split-second decision. But in both cases the police had plenty of time to decide whether to shoot or not, making a nonsense of the split-second defence.

There are other similarities. After the Stanley shooting, Sir Ian Blair, who has faced calls for his resignation over the Menezes shooting, was again highly indignant that policemen should be charged and called on Home Secretary David Blunkett to change the law. His view, then and now, seems to be that in police operations there are bound to be innocent casualties.

To show that the police were unrepentant and that no one was going to be brought to book, one of the officers involved in the Stanley shooting was actually promoted. Precisely the same thing happened after Stockwell when Commander Cressida Dick, the officer in charge of the bungled operation, applied for and was given promotion.

And to complete the picture the police went out of their way to smear the dead man. De Menezes was damned as a coke addict while Stanley was said to be suicidal and accused of deliberately engineering his own death. It all goes to show that despite the customary talk of lessons being learnt, nothing whatever has changed.

On the fast track to a peerage

It looked like an unfortunate coincidence that Lord Drayson should announce his resignation as Defence Procurement Minister on the very same day that an Oxford coroner blamed the chaotic state of the Ministry of Defence for the death of Scottish soldier Gordon Gentle in Iraq. Equipment that would have protected his Land Rover from rocket attack had not been supplied to his regiment even though it was available at the time. Drayson gave an unusual reason for his departure. He wants to spend more time with his racing cars. His hope is that he may be able to compete at Le Mans.

If questions are raised about Drayson's unexpected resignation it will not be the first time that sort of thing has happened. His previous career as a manufacturer of vaccines was chequered. Drayson had given the Labour Party donations exceeding £1m but, luckily for him, his name was never once mentioned in the long-running scandal of the cash for peerages. This was odd, as unlike the other rich businessmen investigated by the police, Drayson had actually received a peerage. Not only that, he was then given a job in the Government. We are now told that he was a very successful minister, though it is not clear to an outsider just how this tallies with an endless series of stories of British troops having to fight with inadequate equipment.

Cynics may equate such problems with those of Drayson's earlier career making flu jabs. But plainly Gordon Brown has no doubts about his ability and has promised to give him back his job – assuming, that is, that he survives Le Mans.

* In my biography of Malcolm Muggeridge there is a photograph of Mugg being received into the Catholic church by Cormac Murphy O'Connor, then the Bishop of Arundel.

Will we soon see a similar picture of O'Connor, now Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, welcoming Tony Blair, pictured, into the church? According to the latest report it seems more than likely.

It is customary in the press nowadays always to refer to Catholics as "devout", but I wonder whether the label should be applied in the case of Blair. Many Catholics have already noted how, despite his Catholic leanings, he has consistently failed to support the church over issues such as abortion.

And there is nothing much about Blair to suggest a religious person. The old Labour Party had many things in common with various Christian churches but Blair seemed determined to sweep away such connections.

When his friend Peter Mandelson said that New Labour was "intensely relaxed about people being stinking rich", he seemed to speak for Blair who has not only paid court to the rich but also has sought to make himself as rich as they are. Nor has Blair ever expressed a single note of remorse or even regret over the disaster of Iraq. Instead he has adamantly insisted that he did the right thing.

In the eyes of the multitude, Blair is a sanctimonious scoundrel and it would be a big mistake for the Catholic church to make a song and dance about his conversion.