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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 June 2006, 11:53 GMT 12:53 UK
Sir Ian fights back
By Brian Wheeler
Political reporter, BBC News

If - as some reports claim - Sir Ian Blair is on the verge of being sacked, he is not going to go down without a fight.

Sir Ian Blair
Sir Ian is in charge of 30,000 police officers

That much was clear from the short but combative speech he made at the British Academy earlier on Wednesday.

It was the Metropolitan Police chief's first public appearance since the controversial anti-terror raid in Forest Gate, East London.

He repeated the Met's apology for the "harm and the hurt and the disruption" caused by the raid which involved 250 officers, and in which a man, subsequently freed, was shot.

He said he could not comment on the raid, or on leaked reports about the Menezes shooting last July.

Robust defence

He could also not respond "to a situation where the family involved in Forest Gate can give press conferences but the police are restricted from providing an alternative account."

The Met's accounts would be given in due course, he said. The implication being that they would be very different to the ones we have heard to date.

Then, peering over his spectacles at the assembled press pack, Sir Ian said: "To paraphrase another great American, Mark Twain on reading his obituary, accounts of my demise are premature."

Sir Ian was at the British Academy to speak about terrorism, but the theme of his speech, that community policing and the fight against terror must go hand-in-hand, also allowed to him to mount a robust defence of his record.

He reeled off a list of statistics from the British Crime Survey, suggesting crime was down in nearly all categories across London.

He said we should be proud that Britain is only one of two countries in the world where the police are not armed. The other was New Zealand, "but with all respect to Auckland, it is not Hackney or Haringey".

Under pressure

He then spoke about 630 new local policing teams, which he said would be in place across London by the end of the year.

It was good community relations that had led to the arrests following the failed 21 July attacks in London, Sir Ian argued.

Sir Ian spoke in calm and measured tones and even made a couple of jokes, comparing the police merger process to speed dating.

But his speech was accompanied throughout by popping flashbulbs as photographers in the front row battled to capture the defining image of a cop-under-pressure.

He had told reporters at the start of his speech that he had to leave immediately afterwards and would not be taking questions.

And leave he did, strolling down the grand staircase police of the British Academy hat in hand, flanked by colleagues.

He turned briefly to tell pursuing TV crew he had nothing more to add, before emerging into the brilliant sunshine.

It was a confident performance designed to give the impression of a man in control of his destiny - and, more importantly, a man who has the answers to the complex policing issues facing the capital.

But judging by the persistence of the TV crews and photographers who pursued him across The Mall, questions about his future are not going to go away in a hurry.


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