The more sensational aspects of the inquest into the killing by the police of Jean Charles de Menezes have concentrated on what happened in the Tube carriage at Stockwell. That was where the action was. The (disputed) details appal. But we should also look back up the police chain of command.
The first clue about what went wrong, and indeed to the kind of organisation we are dealing with, comes not from the behaviour of the police firearms specialists on the day, but in their subsequent behaviour in giving evidence. Both the officers who fired at Mr de Menezes maintained under oath that they shouted a warning before opening fire. The jury explicitly rejected this version of events and preferred to believe the 17 witnesses in the carriage, none of whom can remember the police shouting a warning. What sort of system or chain of command allows its officers to present an unbelievable version of events to a court? We cannot pretend that the officers concerned were not counselled in presenting their version of events to the court. They had three years to work out what they were going to say – and they went for a lie, and a stupid one at that.
This is what disturbs most – not the incompetence, but the glimpse into the strange moral universe of Scotland Yard. Not only do those at the Yard seem to believe that the rules most of us live by, such as telling the truth in court, do not apply to them, but their moral outlook appears out of kilter. How else can one interpret the remark by Cressida Dick, in overall charge that day? "If you ask me whether I think anybody did anything wrong or unreasonable on the operation, I don't think they did."
A normal person could not make such a statement. It would be bad enough if this kind of behaviour was just part of a retrospective cover-up – along with Sir Ian Blair's multiple evasions and the apparent doctoring of an operational log by another officer. But something is lacking, something which permeates every action and instruction.
Look at the shambolic on-off identification of de Menezes, and Ms Dick's own instructions to the teams on the ground. What exactly did she mean by "Stop him", as recorded in the police log at 10.04 that morning – four minutes before de Menezes died? Did her training not tell her that such ambiguity can be fatal (which it turned out to be)? What kind of police officer in charge of a major armed operation issues orders phrased in this way or allows themselves to be so buffeted by unexpected developments?
The job of a commander is to command. By giving clear orders and imposing his or her personality on an operation, a good leader tries to minimise the "friction" in an uncertain situation and reduce the stress and fear of those at the coalface. The commander takes responsibility, and everyone further down the chain of command functions all the better for it – even in a near nightmare set of circumstances. On 22 July 2005 the difficulties and stresses of the day, instead of being absorbed by senior operational commanders, seem to have been pushed downwards to both the surveillance and firearms teams. What does this say about leadership at the Yard or the sense of duty of its senior officers?
If Ms Dick has, in Ken Livingstone's words, "commissioner potential" – or if any other senior figure at Scotland Yard involved in this saga is considered to have "commissioner potential" – then God help us.
Crispin Black is the author of '7-7: The London Bombings: What Went Wrong?'Reuse content