Why Ian Blair should not resign, and why perhaps he should

ian_blairNEW.jpgThere have been calls for Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, to resign over his remarks at a press conference following the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell Tube station on 22 July. Blair said

The information I have available if that this shooting is directly linked to the ongoing and expanding anti-terrorist operation. Any death is deeply regrettable. I understand the man was challenged and refused to obey. 

While we should all try to avoid compounding the error by jumping to any more conclusions before all the facts are known, it does seem likely that Ian Blair’s comments at the press conference were not correct. This has lead to a number of calls for his resignation.  For example, according to ITN

Asad Rehman, from the Justice4Jean campaign, said that if Sir Ian was found to have misled Mr de Menezes’s family, his position would be "no longer tenable"  … Ex-Cabinet minister Frank Dobson tonight said that Sir Ian’s position was "very difficult" because he was partly responsible for people being misled.

Now I do not think that Sir Ian Blair’s remarks, if they do turn out to be wrong, are sufficient reason for him to resign.  I guess his remarks were based on information that he had been given by his staff – it is very unlikely that he would have said this if he had known it wasn’t true.  But more importantly, while it now seems likely that they were misleading, the remarks did not do anyone much harm (except for some damage to the reputation of a dead man.)

However, it may yet turn out that there are at least two reason why Sir Ian should resign.

  • First, if it turns out that the design and execution (if you will pardon the pun) of the ‘shoot to kill’ policy was flawed, then Sir Ian Blair should be held accountable for the consequences. It does seem odd that there was little public discussion of the introduction of this policy, and it may have been implemented without sufficient precautions. We don’t yet know enough about the detail of this policy or how it was communicated to the officers expected to implement it to be sure that there was a failure of leadership, but that certainly seems possible.
  • Second, there are some stories that Sir Ian Blair may have sought to prevent an enquiry into the circumstances of the shooting of Mr Menezes. If this turns out to be true, then this would indeed be a resigning matter, consistent with my dictum that it is always the cover-up that does you.

Update 21 August: You should take a look at my Dad’s longer and more considered comments on this.  I agree with him, though he is perhaps willing to give the police more of the benefit of the doubt than me.

7 comments on “Why Ian Blair should not resign, and why perhaps he should”

  1. I have no issue with the fact that Sir Ian gave a public statement which later proved highly inaccurate. As you say it’s possible that members of his staff gave him bad information. However, I find very suspicous that the public only learned of the errors via leaked reports. It seems likely someone within his organisation has been trying to limit the damage done to MET’s reputation by withholding accurate information regarding killing. Even if the cover-up wasn’t lead by Sir Ian directly, the public are losing trust in him and the MET. At best the man can’t manage, at worst his guilty of corporate manslaughter. Either way he won’t be in the job much longer.

  2. I don’t get why you think he would have been unlikely to say it if he knew it wasn’t true? All the other comments such as the heavy jacket etc, he knew not to be true… or he has staff that lied to him who should be fired? But no one has been fired for lying to him so he should take responsibility. The difference between the two versions was simply too great.

    Owen replies: As far as I know (and correct me if I have this wrong) Sir Ian Blair did not say anything about a heavy jacket or vaulting the ticket barrier. That was all put together by the media, on the basis of witness accounts (and, one assumes, some off the record briefing by the police).

  3. I do remember Blair on television or the radio saying those things, or similar things

    Separate sources have told the Guardian that by the afternoon of the shooting, senior officers had strong suspicions that the man killed was not a terrorist or connected to attempted attacks on London the previous day.

    At his press conference Sir Ian told reporters: “This operation was directly linked to the ongoing terrorist investigation. Any death is deeply regrettable … as I understand the situation, the man was challenged and refused to obey police instructions.”

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/attackonlondon/story/0,16132,1552281,00.html

    But Sir Ian has also refused to accept any responsibility for those ‘briefings’

    http://mywayofthinking.blogs.com/thoughts/2005/08/journalism_and_.html

    Owen replies: Jeremy – right. The quote was in my original blog posting, above. That is all Sir Ian Blair said, as far as we know; and nobody has shown that he, or anyone authorized by him, said anything at all about heavy jackets, turnstiles, etc. But my point was that even if he had said all of that stuff, it isn’t clear that it would matter very much. Poor de Menezes was already dead. What Sir Ian said afterwards is fairly irrelevant – unless there is some evidence that he was trying to cover up the police’s mistake: that would be a serious matter indeed.

  4. if Sir Ian didn’t authorise the comments then why isn’t he searching for the people who did and firing them? Even the Telegraph is reporting on the dishonesty of the police on this. The death of a man is not a matter of semantics there is a basic question of decency here. As standard Sir Ian has failed.

    Owen replies: I would like to think that it is because there are more important things to do that figure out how and why the press came to write these stories. It is much less important than, for example, the question of whether the shoot-to-kill policy was well-designed and properly implemented.

  5. They are both really important points. The idea that the entire press corp and public believed a completely fictious version of events that benefitted only the police is very very important

  6. You can’t help feeling Sir Ian Blair’s inner circle was conspiring against him. The facts were known before the TV broadcast, but they let him make a statement which was known to be false and misleading. Is he such a tyrant that no one wanted to give him the bad news? Or is someone trying to force his resignation? Houston, we have a problem.

    Owen replies: Maybe; or perhaps it was just a cockup. Either way, it doesn’t sound like a resigning matter.

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Owen Barder

Owen is Senior Fellow and Director for Europe at the Center for Global Development and a Visiting Professor in Practice at the London School of Economics. Owen was a civil servant for a quarter of a century, working in Number 10, the Treasury and the Department for International Development. Owen hosts the Development Drums podcast, and is the author Running for Fitness, the book and website. Owen is on Twitter and