Common-sense Policing

Health and safety did for de Menezes

It’s not good enough. It’s not good enough just to shrug our shoulders and say that Jean Charles de Menezes was an inevitable casualty of the so-called war on terror.

According to the polls I have seen, the majority of voters really seem to think we should all heave a sigh, move on, and accept that someone will always be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I say that I am afraid that will not do, because if you think about what actually happened, and you look at the real reason why an innocent Brazilian electrician had seven shots pumped into his head by the police, it is clear that we are in danger of drawing precisely the wrong conclusion.

It wasn’t too little concern for health and safety that did for that young man. The awful paradox is that it was too much.

A few years ago there was a terrible incident at Highmoor Cross in Oxfordshire, when a gunman went on a rampage and shot three women. Although the alarm was raised almost immediately, and although the police were on the scene very shortly afterwards, it took them the better part of an hour before they entered the premises to tend to the bleeding, dying women – while the gunman had long since fled.

In the ensuing recriminations, some police officers rightly pointed to their own cumbersome procedures for dealing with firearms incidents. The rules of engagement were drawn up after the Hungerford shootings, we were told.

They were meant to stop brave and unarmed police officers from being shot; the principle was that the safety of the public and the safety of the police were to be treated as of equal importance – with lamentable results.

Well, if you look at what happened on the way to Stockwell Tube in 2005, you can see the analogies.

The first surveillance team had arrived outside Mr de Menezes’s house in Scotia Road at 6.04am and the second surveillance team arrived at 8.55am. There was no point, from the crack of dawn until his death, at which de Menezes was not under the eye of at least one police officer, and sometimes he was clearly surrounded by several.

Yet the police at no stage did the obvious thing. He was suspected of being a suicide bomber called Hussain Osman; so why in the name of all that’s holy did the officers not just tap him on the shoulder – especially as doubts grew about this identification – and ask him quickly to clear the matter up?

Ah! the cry goes up. But he could have had a bomb! He could have reached under his shirt, or detonated a device in his hand. That is the justification for the inaction and, again, it just won’t do.

If he was genuinely thought to be primed with a bomb, then why was he let on a bus to Brixton station, and why on earth was he then let on another bus (Brixton station being closed) to go to Stockwell?

Let me put this as bluntly as possible. If the police thought he was a real threat to the public then why was he allowed to maximise that threat by getting on public transport?

No one in their right mind would cast aspersions on the bravery of the police. Look at the conduct of “Ivor”, one of the surveillance team, who followed the suspect all the way down into the Tube, and then on to the train, and then pinned down de Menezes’s arms in order to stop him reaching for a putative detonator.

At the moment when they approached that man on the Tube, Ivor and his companions still thought (with varying degrees of conviction) there was a possibility that he could be a suicide bomber. They were brave as lions. So what stopped them from exercising their common sense, and what stopped the situation from getting so out of control? It is because they were once again following procedures.

The procedures dictated that even though the police were mob-handed, and though they kept asking whether or not they should intercept the suspect, they should do nothing. They were repeatedly told to wait for the SO19 firearms unit, and that they should on no account tackle the suspect until then.

Why did they receive this initiative-crippling instruction? The only conclusion we can draw is that it was deemed essential to wait for the firearms team in order to protect the health and safety of the surveillance team; which was nonsensical, because surveillance officers in the end had to run the risk of stopping him on the Tube and pointing him out to the firearms unit, at which point he could easily have detonated his putative bomb – at the moment when the risk to the public was greatest of all.

It is not wholly fair to blame the police for their regulations. As the Chief Constable of West Yorkshire yesterday pointed out, it is the insane cult of health and safety that is stifling common sense.

Remember when the former Met commissioner Sir John Stevens spent six weeks in the Old Bailey, accused of breaking health and safety regulations after one of his officers fell through a garage roof in pursuit of a suspect? If the Met had lost that case, it would have been impossible for any officer to chase villains at height – unless he believed that the suspect’s own health and safety was at risk!

If Sir Ian Blair is to remain in office, and restore confidence, he needs to show urgently how he proposes to bring back common-sense policing.

Most police officers are fully aware that their difficult and dangerous job will sometimes involve them taking a risk on behalf of the public; and yet they are sometimes finding that procedures prevent them from doing what they want instinctively to do.

The dreadful truth is that it wasn’t excessive trigger-happiness that led to the death of Jean Charles de Menezes. It was the modern obsession with health and safety that ratcheted up the risk to the public, and fatally compromised the health and safety of an innocent man.

34 thoughts on “Common-sense Policing”

  1. That’s a tough sell, and I’m not sure I’m convinced. The ridiculous Health and Safety stuff may have contributed, but what on earth were the police doing with a shoot-to-kill policy anyway?

    As Boris just pointed out, the officers pinned him down, his arms included – were they worried he would detonate a bomb with his tongue?

    In this age of atomised warfare, where terrorists often operate alone and even large western armies operate in squads of six men, I am gradually coming round to the idea that in certain cases a trial is simply not possible, and we may be forced to assassinate someone. However, even if that is justifiable, it should surely only be someone who could not feasibly be arrested and brought to Britain for trial, and should only occur when the case has been thoroughly made to a judge at least, if not a panel of judges or better yet a jury.

    That someone who could easily have been pinned down and arrested, on British soil and brought to trial in a British court, where there was no strong case against them and no judicial oversight was executed is a crime. At the very least most of those who were closely implicated should have lost their jobs, and whomever ordered the shoot-to-kill policy should be locked up.

  2. Ah Boris I wouldn’t mind armchair critics like you making such comments about health and safety except that once there is a major loss of life in some sort of an accident involving public transport, all politicians line up on the television to inflict their comments on the viewers.

    All the opposition politicians are seen baying for blood, citing poor health and safety standards, whilst Government Ministers always promise to learn the lessons and clearly don’t.

    Sadly the case of Jean Charles de Menezes is following the same path.

  3. Hooray! At last! A perfectly reasoned argument, Boris. I defy anyone to gainsay it without the use of the usual weasel words we hear time, and time again, from NuLab politicians.
    Health and Safety – what an oxymoron…

  4. where and when did common sense go out of the window and health and safety come in…did it happen in “commitee”….is the ethos to keep the situation stable for as long as possible until we can get a view about the best course of action to take given various inputs by as wide a number of respondents as possible with expertise in the field…it appears that nobody wants to take responsibility for their actions any longer…John Smeaton, bagage handler at Glasgow airport….now…would Sir Ian Blaire have done the same?….nah…nuf said.

  5. “Let me put this as bluntly as possible. If the police thought he was a real threat to the public then why was he allowed to maximise that threat by getting on public transport?”

    Off the top of my head, the report into it stated tat the police were watching 10 properties in total, or figures to that effect.

    Its a simple case of being completely overstretched, they cant be in 10 places at once.

    As to being shot 7 times in the head, if your going to do it, do it properly. If i was one of the police up against a potential suicide bomber who was going to blow me and those around me to kingdom come, then i would make 100% sure that he could not bring the two contacts on the palms of his hands etc. together to detonate it.

    The blame does not rest with Ian Blair, it rests with the government who have cut/regulated/taxed everything in this country to the bone. It will be interesting when the Conservatives get in (Fingers crossed) where all the billions of £’s have gone?

  6. What a coup for the Health and Safety Executive.

    We live in an era of unaccountable government. Failure to deliver is rewarded, providing the relevant incumbent, regardless of how stupid, dishonest or incompetent this might make them look, can demonstrate the ability to stick to the agreed story. Those dissenters who dare to wander off on a tangent from the straight and narrow of the official line are ridiculed and harrassed.

    An army of quangos and unelected officials police the democratic wishes of the nation using a plethora of unintelligable legislation. They serve and protect their political masters’ every whim, often in the face of public outrage. Other than to ask for more money and power all tow the line. All except one that is. One little quango has placed herself head and shoulders above the rest of the herd.

    By taking on the Met when the government, Police Complaints Commission and Crown Prosecution Service would not,the Health and Safety Executive have asserted themselves as top dog.

    Their strategy document – A strategy for workplace health and safety in Great Britain to 2010 and beyond – chillingly states their intentions:

    “…Our goal is not to have a risk free society but one where risk is properly appreciated, understood and managed. We want to enable activities to take place that might otherwise give rise to concern. To communicate this message effectively, we need to develop more mature, open, transparent and inclusive two-way communications with a wide range of stakeholders. We want productive dialogues, particularly at the regional level. This will improve the quality of our decisionmaking, help confirm trust and achieve higher levels of recognition and respect for health and safety.”

    Consider the phrase ‘We want to enable activities to take place…’.

    An important distinction between the citizen and the state has always been that the citizen is free to act in any way that is not specifically against the law, whereas the state may only act in accordance with the powers granted to it by by parliament. This lot seem to want things to be the other way around.

  7. Was it really the Metropolitan Police Service that shot Mr. de Menezes? Look at the weaponry: Are the police in UK really issued with hollow point ammunition that can literally blow a person’s head off. Bad for the image, wouldn’t you say? And when you examine the Heckler-Koch product range on the web, you see the G3 rifle, but the stock is from a PSG-1 Sniper’s Rifle. Can’t believe the MET would be allowed to customise their weapons. The Daily Mail is dropping heavy hints (picture of police officer/soldier), but naturally the Telegraph is operating on a need-to-know basis. And you mug punters don�t need to know.
    So to Health and Safety issues. The MET had never faced the semtex-waistcoat type suicide bomber. So presumably H&S Regulations demanded they call in the experts. Hence the four-hour delay. So if there were a “Home Team”, “Away Team” situation, perhaps with a high level of friction between the two, it would go some way to explain the poor level of communication. Join the dots, people.

  8. Jack said:
    As to being shot 7 times in the head, if your going to do it, do it properly. If i was one of the police up against a potential suicide bomber who was going to blow me and those around me to kingdom come, then i would make 100% sure that he could not bring the two contacts on the palms of his hands etc. together to detonate it.

    A potential suicide bomber? You’re a potential suicide bomber, should I have the right to shoot you in case you blew yourself up? If there was enough of a case against De Menezes to justify executing him in the name of public safety then they would have had enough of a case to simply enter his home and arrest him. If they were really so worried about the potential bomb threat they shouldn’t have let him onto those buses. And if they were truly (irrationally) worried that he presented a threat, why not shoot him in each arm? At least he would be alive.

    It was bungled from start to finish, but mostly the police should not have shot him in any case. People should only be shot if they are a clear and present danger – i.e. they’re threatening people with a gun and there’s no alternative. In the minds of the police De Menezes might have been a present danger, but he was not a clear one – he hadn’t threatened anybody and they had little in the way of a case against him.

  9. Now I’m completely confused.

    The first report I read on this unfortunate episode said he was shot in the back of the head (a few times to make sure) because he was running away from the feds. Fair enough, I thought, if you run away from armed police you’ve probably only got yourself to blame for the consequences.

    Now, I’m given to understand from Boris’ article, he had his arms pinned behind his back at the time??!?!

    Shurely shome mishtake?!?

  10. Everyone is so hyped up about suicide bombers (and understandably) yet the government does nothing effective to control borders and prevent the residency of those preaching treason and hate in this country.

    If this is a holy war and Islamofascism and the British culture are incompatible then control the borders and get rid of Islam and the muslim faith in this country. But no, the government bend over backwards to appease a minority, every minority, lest they might be offended. The government offer ID cards as a solution which, as we all know, will be no solution. When they had Menzies on the ground, would his having an ID card or no ID card have prevented him being shot?

  11. Game Theory on situations that involve substantial bargaining rightly devotes much attention to the dynamics of individual moves. It provides a framework for dealing with all details of the rules of the game. The details of process, be they offers, counteroffers, threates, ploys, or bluffs are often decisive in the resolution of the conflict. The information pattern is no less decisive as it unfolds over time, and the exact description of ‘who knows what when’ can be extremely complex in a multilateral, multimove model.

  12. “Join the dots, people.” (Andrew Milner)

    I’m trying, but I can’t work out if you are saying that you believe MI5, MI6, the Army, the CIA, or Mossad shot him. It would be nicer if you would enlighten us further on your theory as opposed to refer to us all as ‘mug punters’. The Telegraph isn’t perfect but it’s by far the best of a bad bunch.

  13. Naturally, I included myself in the “mug punter” category. Mushrooms; kept in the dark and fed ****. Touching faith in DT. FYI, DT will censor material that the Times and even Auntie will publish.
    None of the above. I’ve tried half a dozen times to be more explicit, but the MSM won’t touch it.
    Think about the four hours delay. Four hours by road from central London. Why, that would take you to the borders of Wales.
    I. Across, three letters. Initials UK Army unit known for ruthless efficiency.
    Better move to a safe house.

  14. I am a Civil Engineer. If I or somebody who works for me makes an error of judgment while we are carrying out our work and somebody dies as a result of this I would expect to get hung drawn and quartered and rightly so.

    Whatever anybody else may say, in my opinion this was Professional incompetence of the first order and somebody must take responsibility for their actions. Is nobody in the Metropolitan Police Force Honorable enough to stand up and admit they were at fault. After all they are quick enough to prosecute the rest of us when we make an error of judgment.

  15. Boris once again trying to pass off other peoples’ views as his own original thoughts. How has he managed to make such money from journalism other than by using public school contact?

  16. Boris Johnson has been photographed twice in recent months chatting on his mobile while driving.

    As he considers it OK to break the law when he can get away with it, should we take any notice of his opinions on policing? (Or road safety and cyclists?)

  17. As he considers it OK to break the law when he can get away with it, should we take any notice of his opinions on policing?

    Certainly we should. Politicans who break laws harmlessly are making a bolder statement than the New Labour puritans who spend their lives slapping Elastoplast on every little thing they see wrong with the human race.

    Of course he was naughty boy for making the call, but where are the protests, the marches, the furious letters to the press calling for his resignation? There are none, because most people are sick to the back teeth with Labour’s micro-management of their lives.

    Now it’s mobile phones. Next smoking at the wheel. After that, talking while driving, soon to be followed by the custodial offence of thinking while in charge of a motor vehicle.


  18. You know there are some pretty stupid laws: I regularly break the law by eating Christmas Pudding at Christmas. It’s also pretty ironic for you to raise a point about breaking a health and safety law in response to an article Boris wrote against excessive health and safety regulation.

  19. Eh? (PaulD)

    Hey Paul, I was quite tired when I wrote that… But yes, it is illegal to eat Christmas Pudding at Christmas due to an old Protestant law about the proper meaning of Christmas which was never repealed. Mince pies too.

  20. Accident data suggests using a hands free mobile phone whilst driving is no safer than using a hand held one. Why one is illegal, and one not has no basis in sense, just that driving with a phone in your hand looks careless.

  21. PaulD re using mobile phone while driving: “Politicans who break laws harmlessly… ”

    I see. This is the right-wing farmer / Paul Smith argument that motoring offences are victimless crimes if nobody is hurt. But (and it’s so obvious I really shouldn’t have to say it) it’s a numbers / stats game. The more people are speeding, the more children will be hit by speeding drivers.

    [Ed: …]

  22. Monbiot writes comment articles about as often as Boris, and makes a living from journalism like Boris.

    But compare this first sentence, from his latest blog entry (guardian website tuesday 13th nov):

    “Loth as I am to threaten my reputation as a bilious old git, I feel compelled to shock you.”

    It’s sort of like the first sentences of lots of Boris’ articles… only much, much better.

    People admire Boris’ writing style. I find it hackneyed.

  23. As a driver with Satnav, I can confirm that programming the machine on the move is far more dangerous than making a phone call.

    More dangerous still were the two nattering women I tailed this morning, where the driver spent more time with her head swivelled to the left than she did looking at the road ahead.

  24. Bad driving isn’t something you can measure with a Gatso, so police resources are focused upon ‘easy collars’ like speed and phone-in-hand. No more dangerous (probably less) but a rational choice for a chief constable wanting the stamp of approval on his efficiency certificate.

  25. Andrew Milner: If you really think specialist anti-terrorist units had to ‘rush’ from Hereford (maybe in a specially slow helicopter which took 4 hours?) to shoot someone you aren’t much of a conspiracy theorist. Everyone knows they have a ‘secret’ ops room in Tower Bridge which they share with the Knights Templar.

  26. Jeanette, you just blew your cover. You have obviously been reading George Monbiot in the Guardian and sent two posts in quick succession under different names relating to the same article. Am I right?

    You are also the same person who hides behind a variety of names making libellous comments about our host, which have to be edited out.

    Let me make another guess. A northerner, you got a place at Oxford, couldn’t hack it, missed your mates, and to this day you pour your bitterness on others who did manage to settle in.

    Right or wrong?

    You snipe from the touchline under cover of different identities while bringing nothing of value to the forum. We are not in the least bit interested in your opinion of Monbiot’s writing style v Boris’s.

    Since you mention Paul Smith, Monbiot has completely the wrong idea about his organisation SafeSpeed. The clue is in the title. Smith is not a boy racer or petrolhead but an engineer who has spent years trying to unravel the misinformation pumped out by this government.

    His central plank is that too much reliance has been placed on speed cameras and not enough on proper policing. His campaign is aimed at reducing accidents while keeping traffic moving. Is that so awful?

    Monbiot has a fair point when he says none of Smith’s research has been submitted for peer review. But a lot of his findings have survived the ultimate review by peers – the millions of people who drive cars and are deeply suspicious of the government’s motives behind traffic management.

    I have followed Safespeed closely for some time. It is supported by a wide variety of road users, from Advanced Drivers to motorcyclists to police officers themselves. They cannot all be wrong.

    As for your own “contribution” perhaps we should take a leaf out of Boris’s book and say keep ’em coming! We all enjoy a laugh.

  27. Further thoughts on peer review: I have some sympathy with Monbiot when he says: “Almost every day I’m approached by people making wild claims that chocolate causes cancer or elderberries cure AIDS – and the only means I have of deciding whether such claims should be taken seriously is peer review: have they survived the scrutiny of independent experts in the field?”

    The point about campaigning websites like SafeSpeed is that the ARE open to peer review; indeed they are open to analysis and criticism by anyone including the Pope, if he wishes. Furthermore, the analysis is transparent and democratic.

    Publication of a work in an academic journal confirms that a panel of reviewers – there may only be a couple of them – have broadly approved it. The system is open to abuse; we have seem many examples of papers on global warming and secondhand smoke rejected in favour of those promoting the current political orthodoxy, yet no more scientifically robust.

    A web-based system with feedback mechanism means a theory can be torn to shreds before the public’s eyes – as they often are – leaving us to decide.

    And, as Paul Smith says, his site is as much an interesting collection of links to other resources as it is a repository of his own research.

    The two are different beasts, equally valid in their own way.

    Original article,,2210070,00.html

    Sequel by Monbiot:

    Demolition job on Monbiot$481449.htm

    (And there was I saying Jeanette / Trevor-bev, or whoever he is today, had nothing to contribute…)

  28. “Fair enough, I thought, if you run away from armed police you’ve probably only got yourself to blame for the consequences.”

    Crikey, Ed. I would run away if armed police were pointing their guns at me. Why? Well, the fact that I’m an innocent civilian clearly won’t stop them shooting at me and I reckon the further away I am, the more likely they are to miss.

  29. Regarding the Monbiot/climate change/road safety discussion that has emerged on this thread, I was reading the BBC article on how it should handle MMGW and have been trying to post a response since last night. Each time, the site hangs and then times out. So as it seems relevant, I’m posting it here for consideration…..

    The trouble with climate “science” is that it has become politicised. Governments see MMGW as the golden goose for carbon- and emissions-based taxes of many kinds, both personal and on businesses. At a time of increasing healthcare costs and pensions payouts, anything that can generate more tax income is extremely welcome.

    Therefore, governments have a vested interest in seeing MMGW hyped and spun into a big issue, the solution to which can be found in increased taxation. This needs to be the basis of the BBC’s reporting — the non-impartial stance of governments and therefore the IPCC which is funded by them.

    In the light of the funding for the funding of the IPCC and its supporters, plus the “mutual sign-off” that has taken the place of peer reviews, it’s no surprise that so-called “contrarians” can’t get funding and don’t get heard. They are seldom heard on the BBC, giving the impression that the BBC is a pro-MMGW organisation (whether it is or not).

    What this means, however, is that you cannot judge the accuracy of the science by the loudness of its voice or the number of its adherents. It therefore behoves the BBC reporters who report on MMGW to:

    1. have an in-depth understanding of the science on both sides
    2. report on the science and not the spin
    3. give a voice to all who have something meaningful to say based on science performed honestly and without bias, independent of their funding level.

    Those BBC reporters who choose to report on MMGW should have a knowledge of scientific method, an understanding of computer modelling, and a knowledge of statistics. Only by being able to talk to interviewees from a position of strength can you do what we need you to do, and that’s get to the facts. We don’t need soundbites and a regurgitation of press releases; we need someone to ask the questions we’re shouting at the radio/TV: “says who?” “is that statistically significant?”, “where’s the proof?”, “what other explanations could there be?”.

    Come to think of this, this applies to almost all the BBC’s reporting on epidemiology as well (the latest cancer scare, the latest data dredge).

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