Leading article: A brilliant success, but the police must be controlled

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The Independent Online

According to recent polls, the Met's reputation has been justly restored. The breathtaking capture of three suspects within 24 hours will have done much to bolster morale, both within its ranks and among the wider public. And, for all the pictures of Swat teams, it seems to have been alert neighbours and old-fashioned community policing, acting in concert, that can claim credit for the apprehension of the 21 July suspects.

But if, as Sir Ian Blair suggests, "this is a campaign we're facing, not a one-off event", then it is vital that public confidence is maintained in his force's "shoot-to-kill-to-protect" policy. We are warned that we must not rush to judgement about the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes, and indeed we must not. The problem is that new details are emerging about his death which, unavoidably, serve to undermine that confidence.

There is strong evidence to suggest that Mr de Menezes was wearing a denim jacket rather than a winter coat that could have hidden explosives, as previously claimed. There is also doubt about the claim that Mr de Menezes vaulted the ticket barrier. But most worrying of all, the leaked Operation Kratos guidelines suggest that police are under orders "not to challenge" suicide bombers "as this action is likely to trigger a detonation" - despite Sir Ian's claims such warnings had been shouted at Mr de Menezes.

Further unease has been caused by the confusion over the use of a Taser stun-gun for the arrest of the first suspect in Birmingham. The Met declares itself baffled: the electric charge given off by a Taser could trigger the circuits of a suicide bomb. West Midlands Police, and Taser experts, reply that it was the safest weapon to use, given the feeble effects of its low current. Such basic judgements should hardly be a matter for debate at this late juncture.

The responsibility for this fog, however, lies with politicians. New guidance for dealing with suicide bombers was issued in 2002 without anyone telling the public or Parliament. At his monthly press conference last week, the Prime Minister said he could not remember whether he had been told that the guidelines had changed. He thought the issue was best left to the police's "common sense".

Though they have to make the difficult final calls, the police should not have overall discretion on this. Hazel Blears has taken refuge in the claim that these are operational matters. To a degree, of course, they are, but the framework in which these final police judgements are made is a matter of the utmost public interest. Yet it appears the matter has had minimal, if any, public scrutiny.

Public confidence will come from being sure that the police are playing by the rules. That cannot be done if the public - or at the very least those in elected office - do not know what the rules are. As the jargon has it, the politicians must demand "ownership" of this issue.

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