July 25, 2005
Regrets, but No Apology, in London Subway Shooting
By ELAINE SCIOLINO
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LONDON, July 24 - The British police on Sunday defended the killing of an
innocent man on a subway train and a shoot-to-kill policy as Britain's
political establishment rallied around the policies of Prime Minister Tony
Blair in his antiterror campaign.
Sir Ian Blair, the London police commissioner, stopped short of an outright
apology as he expressed "deepest regrets" and accepted "full responsibility"
for the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes, a 27-year-old Brazilian
electrician who died on Friday after he was shot five times in the head by
the local police at the Stockwell subway station in south London.
The commissioner also raised the possibility that more potential suspects
could be killed in the mass transit system, as armed officers are forced to
make split-second decisions on whether a suspicious person who does not heed
police warnings represents an immediate lethal threat and should be shot in
"It wasn't just a random event, and the most important thing to recognize is
that it is still happening out there," Sir Ian said Sunday in an interview
with Sky News TV. He added, "Somebody else could be shot."
Adding to the anxiety in the country, he said that the four suspects who
fled after attempted bombings last Thursday in London, which came two weeks
after the July 7 attacks, were probably still somewhere in Britain.
Portraying the working environment of his police officers as "terrifying,"
he said that "there is no point shooting at somebody's chest, because that
is where the bomb is likely to be."
Instead, for the first time, police used special aim-for-the head tactics
under a plan adopted after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.
The plan is described on the official London police Web site as a four-stage
"coordinated response to suicide attacks."
The police declined to discuss the guidelines used, but they are based
partly on those used by Israel in stopping bombing suspects.
Lord Stevens, Sir Ian's predecessor as the London police commissioner, wrote
in an opinion piece in Sunday's News of the World that he had sent teams for
training to Israel and other countries hit by suicide bombers. There, he
said, he had learned that, "There is only one sure way to stop a suicide
bomber determined to fulfill his mission: destroy his brain instantly,
Britain's political elite largely have supported the actions of the
government, but Brazil's foreign minister, Celso Amorim, said he was
"shocked and perplexed" by the killing of one of his countrymen and demanded
an explanation after speaking by telephone to his British counterpart, Jack
Straw, and meeting a foreign office minister in London.
"Here was a peaceful innocent person who was killed," Mr. Amorim told
reporters, adding, "Even in the fight against terrorism, we should also be
cautious to avoid the loss of innocent life."
Mr. Straw offered expressions of regret and assurances of a thorough, if
lengthy, investigation into the killing, Mr. Amorim said.
Family members of the victim struggled to make sense of why Mr. Menezes was
killed. "Their explanation is that they had to kill someone to show the
population that they are making the country safe," Alex Alves Pereira, a
cousin who is acting as the family spokesman, told BBC television. "I ask
all the people to ask the Metropolitan Police and Tony Blair, 'What kind of
job are they doing?' "
About three dozen people, apparently Brazilians, demonstrated in front of
Scotland Yard in central London, holding a banner that read, "Sorry is not
On Sunday, the police announced that they arrested a man on Saturday night
in connection with the attacks in south London, where two other men were
arrested Friday. The police also decided to hold two men on suspicion of
involvement in last Thursday's attempted strikes until Wednesday under
antiterrorism laws. They have not been identified.
Scotland Yard said nothing about the status of the police officer who had
fired the five shots that killed Mr. Menezes, leaving unanswered whether he
had been suspended or relieved of his firearm, as has occurred in some
previous cases involving shootings by the police.
In his remarks on Sunday, Sir Ian struggled to defend himself against
charges that his officers had overreacted. "There is nothing gratuitous here
in what is going on," he said. "There is nothing cavalier. There is no
conspiracy to shoot people."
But as was the case in the United States in the aftermath of the Sept. 11
terrorist attacks, there has been a political circling of the wagons as even
Prime Minister Blair's opposition has been reluctant to look soft in the
campaign against terrorism.
"I'm proud we have a prime minister who knows what he's doing," David
Cameron, a conservative member of Parliament, told Sky News TV on Sunday. He
said this was not a time to play politics, adding, "We are all in this
For the moment, the conservatives have shelved a proposal for a commission
of inquiry to investigate any intelligence failure before the July 7
attacks, a party official said.
After the killing of Mr. Menezes, the shoot-to-kill policy was staunchly
defended. "We are living in unique times of unique evil, at war with an
enemy of unspeakable brutality, and I have no doubt that now, more than
ever, the principle is right despite the chance, tragically, of error," Lord
Stevens said in the opinion article on Sunday.
Peter Hain, the secretary for Northern Ireland, put it more bluntly in
televised remarks on Sunday, offering a message to the police officers:
"They have our full support."
Even Ken Livingstone, the London mayor and a longtime champion of civil
liberties, defended the police officers involved in the shooting death,
saying in a statement released Saturday night that the terrorists, not the
police, were to blame.
"This tragedy has added another victim to the toll of deaths for which the
terrorists bear responsibility," Mr. Livingstone said.
Hélène Fouquet contributed reporting for this article.