Anne Cryer: The shoot-to-kill policy has to be reconsidered

If we're not careful we'll get dragged down into the same gutter as the suicide killers
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The Independent Online

The death of one innocent person was tragic but had to be weighed against the deaths of more than 50 innocent people who were murdered by the 7 July suicide bombers. Now, I'm afraid that if we're not careful we'll get dragged down into the same gutter as those killers.

The knowledge of a shoot-to-kill policy really disturbs me. Why was it there and why didn't we know anything about it. Time and again, from Sidney Silverman onwards, the democratically elected MPs of this country have voted against capital punishment. Yet it was completely unknown to us in Parliament that we had a policy, under certain circumstances, deliberately to kill. I couldn't believe it when I found out that there was such a policy. Rumours regarding shoot-to-kill during the Northern Ireland troubles had always been denied. Yet here we are in mainland Britain with what appears to be an acceptance of the short-circuiting of our criminal justice system.

We must find out when it was instituted and under what rules. The police after all managed to arrest a whole host of suspects after the failed 21 July bombings without killing anyone. Why couldn't they have done so in this case. I have a great deal of sympathy for young policemen having to face such a dangerous situation as we have now, but there can be no ambiguity about the rules they are governed by.

The House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, of which I'm a new member, will, I would have thought, want to consider pursuing the issue when we meet on 13 September to hear evidence from the Home Secretary Charles Clarke, the Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair and the head of counter-terrorism at the Met, Peter Clarke. The hearing was originally intended to be into the much broader issue of how the bombings came about and what we can do to prevent more of them. But now we may have to discuss looking at the shooting of Mr de Menezes - either as part of that, or separately.

It could well be that, before the Select Committee meets, the Home Secretary will explain what happened and will clarify the shoot-to-kill policy - and possibly remove it.

I, like everyone else, originally accepted that while it was tragic that Jean Charles de Menezes had been killed at Stockwell, there were grounds for suspicion, and we were prepared to accept that there had been an unfortunate error. We are in difficult times, in a near-war situation. And there did seem reasonable grounds for suspicion in this case. He had run when challenged, we were told. He had leapt over the barrier and had been wearing a heavy winter coat although it was summer.

Now, if the reports are true, every single one of those facts is wrong. He wasn't challenged, he didn't run - he went into the station using an ordinary ticket, having picked up a newspaper. And when he was shot he was being held in an armlock.

I'd like to hear from the police the whole background to this. If, as the leaks suggest, he was being followed for some time, including time on a bus; given the fact that he didn't look like an Asian, contrary to received intelligence; and was behaving quite normally, why didn't it occur to them that they might have it wrong. And if they did have any doubts, why couldn't they have disabled him before he got into the tube.

We also need to find out from Sir Ian Blair and Charles Clarke just why there was this delay of five days before the Independent Police Complaints Commission started their investigations. Was it because Sir Ian's note to the Permanent Secretary of the Home Office. Sir Ian now says that he didn't know the man was innocent for 24 hours. But why so long and why the days before the IPCC was brought in?

This is ultimately about our democracy - and the criminal justice system that lies behind it. Justice is being short-circuited in the first place by the suicide bombers, who do away with the whole process of arrest, trial and punishment by making a judgement to kill themselves and their victims.

And now it would appear that it is also being short-circuited by this shoot-to-kill policy. We will have to clear this up if we are to retain the moral high ground and keep the public on our side - all sections of it.

We cannot continue to languish in this no-man's land where we don't know what is happening - or why.

The writer is Labour MP for Keighley