Richard Ingrams’ Week: Being in the Met means never having to say you're sorry

Saturday 11 October 2008 00:00

"We did nothing wrong," so said Deputy Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick, giving evidence at the inquest into the shooting in July 2005 of Jean Charles de Menezes.

People are used, by now, to the way the police never admit to making a mistake.

Even so, there might have been more than a few gasps of disbelief that a senior officer could state in a witness box that no one had done anything wrong when an innocent man, mistaken for a suspected terrorist, had been shot on the floor of a Tube train with seven bullets in the head.

All this following a well-attested series of blunders by the police who in the wake of the failed suicide bomb attacks a few days previously were operating, as they now admit, in conditions of chaos and confusion. Perhaps worst of all, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Dick went on to suggest that Mr De Menezes was unintentionally to blame for his death firstly because he bore a very strong resemblance to the wanted man, Hussain Osman – this after it had been shown that police had doctored the photographs – then because he had been jumpy and was sending text messages, as if that proved anything.

It was surprising that she did not go on to tell the inquest that Mr De Menezes had been a cocaine addict, though this was an allegation previously leaked to the press by police sources.

Surprising, too, that she made no mention of a "split-second decision" – the traditional police line of defence when they gun down an innocent victim.

But Cressida Dick, who was actually promoted after the shooting, has nothing to fear. She even told the inquest that the killing of an innocent person could well happen again, given the nature of the terrorist threat. As they used to say in Stalin's Russia, "You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs".

Tripe and trivia before the meltdown

A refrain of Hilaire Belloc's had been running in my head these last few days as follows: "These are the things that people do not know. They do not know because they are not told."

I thought of it yesterday morning listening to one of those innumerable Radio 4 experts commenting on our economic meltdown. Apropos another panic on the stock exchange she said that of course a lot of the difficulty arose from the fact that much of the buying and selling of shares was nowadays done by computers. This, I should say, was thrown into the discussion as a bit of an after thought, on the assumption that most of us would be well aware of it.

Then again it is assumed to be common knowledge that local councils up and down the land not to mention assorted charities and police authorities have deposited millions of pounds in Icelandic Banks.

But I don't remember anyone ever mentioning that extraordinary fact, let alone suggesting that it might not be a very good idea. Few are likely to raise the point but is it possible that the media, increasingly obsessed by tripe and trivia, have failed to see the writing on the wall.

Last Monday, as all over the world banks tottered and governments rocked. the flagship Channel 4 documentary program Dispatches devoted an hour of its time to lap dancing clubs. It seemed like a vivid symbol of what was wrong not just with the media but perhaps the country as a whole.

In dark times, the Prince of Darkness is the man for the job

It was good to be reminded this week that Peter Mandelson was the man who famously said that New Labour was "intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich" – perhaps the clearest indication that Old Labour's distrust and disapproval of fat cats was now officially a thing of the past.

Would Mandelson, who never concealed his personal liking for filthy rich tycoons and wealthy hostesses, now change his tune and tell us that he was intensely relaxed about filthy rich people going bankrupt, because there seems to be a whiff of old-fashioned Socialist sentiment emanating from No 10.

Why is it that, although I have never been in any sense an admirer of Mandelson, I nevertheless feel reassured by his return to high office?

The reason is that Mandelson has all the hallmarks of a politician – by which I mean that he is ambitious, wily, hypocritical, smooth-talking, never at a loss for words – all in all, a cunning old bastard.

And part of the trouble one has with many members of Gordon Brown's team is that they never for a moment look the part. No one could feel much confidence in somebody like Ed Balls with his bulging eyes and asinine grin, let alone David Miliband – and he is supposed to be the Foreign Secretary. How was it ever possible, for that matter, to take Ruth Kelly seriously.

Politicians like to tell us that they are in it for the good of the country and that their only aim in life is to make things better for us all. That maybe so, at least in some cases, but the sad fact is that most of us would tend to feel safer if we can convince ourselves that a bunch of clever, manipulative schemers like Mandelson are in charge.

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