Cover-up allegations build in mistaken London killing case
Statement cites initial reluctance on investigation
LONDON -- Police opposed an independent investigation into their fatal shooting of a Brazilian man they mistook for a suicide bomber, a British official said yesterday, as allegations grew of a coverup.
''The Metropolitan Police Service initially resisted us taking on the investigation, but we overcame that," said John Wadham, chairman of the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which is investigating the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes.
Police issued Wadham's statement after lawyers for the Menezes family met with the complaints commission, demanding more information about the killing.
Menezes, 27, was shot seven times in the head by police who tailed him to a south London subway station on July 22 -- one day after four bombs were planted on the transit system by suspected terrorists. The bombs failed to detonate fully.
Two weeks earlier, bombs on three London trains and a double-decker bus killed 52 commuters.
The Guardian newspaper reported yesterday that Sir Ian Blair, director of London's Metropolitan Police, tried to block the commission's independent probe because it could negatively affect national security and intelligence. The paper also said police kept IPCC from the shooting scene for three days.
A commission spokeswoman declined to say whether the delay was unusual, and the Home Office, which oversees British national security, refused to comment.
But Blair denied there was any coverup.
''Those allegations, I have to say, do strike at the integrity of this office and the integrity of the Metropolitan Police, and I fundamentally reject them," he said in an interview with London's Evening Standard newspaper.
He acknowledged writing a letter to the Home Office, the Metropolitan Police Authority -- the London police force watchdog -- and the complaints commission saying he thought the terrorism investigation should take precedence over a probe into the Menezes killing. But he denied trying to block a probe.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, a British TV station leaked documents from the complaints commission investigation contradicting police accounts of Menezes's death.
That prompted a Metropolitan Police Authority official to say the investigation must be made public.
''The leaks, apparently from the IPCC report, demonstrate that there are problems with the procedure. I therefore think it's time now to come clean and actually let us all know exactly what's been going on," Jenny Jones, a Green Party member of the police authority, said yesterday in an interview.
''The Met has a fantastic reputation as a trustworthy police force whose officers often aren't even armed. But we have to find out what went wrong in this surveillance operation and whether the bad information we have received about it was an accident or a coverup," Jones said.
Yesterday, lawyers for the Menezes family demanded answers.
''This has been a chaotic mess," said lawyer Gareth Peirce, who accused police of stalling the investigation. ''One of the things we asked the IPCC to investigate is: Are there lies that have been told? Who told them?"
The public also criticized the probe.
''It's just outrageous. You can't go around shooting innocent people. Will this happen again?" said Ian Bennett, 22, an aerospace engineer. ''It's really worrying if there has been a big coverup attempt."
''They're supposed to be pillars of justice and honor," Victoria Shillito, 22, said of the London police. ''Now? You just don't know. I'm shocked."