BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Thursday, 1 November 2007, 14:26 GMT
Menezes: Met's thinking on trial
By Dominic Casciani
BBC News

New Scotland Yard
Scotland Yard: Did it lose control?
Why did Jean Charles de Menezes die on 22 July 2005? Were the events avoidable?

Despite the unprecedented trial of the Metropolitan Police, we will not have the full, final answer until after Mr de Menezes' much-delayed inquest.

Instead, we have seen the UK's largest police force in the dock over its responsibility to observe health and safety laws and avoid endangering the public.

At the heart of this case has been an exhaustive forensic examination of the Met's command and control strategy.

The Crown Prosecution Service decided no single officer should stand trial in relation to the death. Key figures in the investigation, including firearms officers and Cmdr Cressida Dick, were not under any criminal suspicion.

And so the jury's focus has been command systems and decision-making processes.

But while Room 1600, the Met's high-tech Operations Room, may sound like something from the Bourne Ultimatum, the prosecution said the decisions taken there influenced events on the ground.

Cressida Dick
Cressida Dick: Gold commander on the day
Cressida Dick was the commander responsible for any Operation Kratos shoot-to-kill policy to deal with a suicide bomber.

She was the "gold commander" brought in during the early hours to oversee stake-outs at the Menezes flats and other locations. You can examine the stake-out in detail in the BBC News website's interactive guide to the tragedy.

But when she took the stand at the Old Bailey, Cmdr Dick vehemently denied she had been at fault.

She painstakingly sought to take the jury through how she arrived at each decision and why senior officers believed they had to provide officers on the ground with the flexibility to make decisions for themselves.

This operational flexibility was at the heart of one of the key arguments in the trial. Police chiefs say that the prosecution misunderstood the realities of the unprecedented crisis of July 2005.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Ian Blair had already warned a guilty verdict would have "major implications" for the police in fast-moving life-threatening situations.

A step-by-step guide to tragedy

Chris Fox, former head of the Association of Chief Police Officers, told the BBC what this meant.

"If the police are following a suspect bomber, they have to intervene before this individual can put the public gravely at risk," he said in an interview.

"If there is not a firearms officers available because of emergency circumstances, the officer that does [intervene] will commit an offence, the organisation will commit an offence of putting themselves unnecessarily at risk.

"They will find themselves caught between two stools and this is really dangerous because they will be uncertain about what to do.

"The whole point of anti-terrorism work is that you have to make links. You have to follow suspects. And often suspects are suspect bombers.

"You have to follow them, to find the factory, their colleagues, locations and understand their plans. Now at what point do they become a suspect where you have to intervene?"

In practice, nobody yet knows where that point comes. But the police fear a rigid interpretation of health and safety would force them apprehend every dangerous suspect as soon as possible - preventing police from gathering critical intelligence that may lead them to other criminals and terrorists.

Information flow

The logs shown during the trial show how commanders back at Scotland Yard were trying to deal with information coming from all avenues.

Continuously throughout this trial we heard it was not an ideal situation - but in this information age, that really isn't an excuse.
Dr Sandra Bell, Rusi

Liaison officers were passing reports up the command chain to key figures including Cressida Dick and Trojan 80, the codename for the top firearms advisor.

Information was partial and patchy. Surveillance officers did not know where the firearms teams were. The firearms teams did not appear to be clear about what the surveillance teams thought.

And when Jean Charles de Menezes got off a bus and walked a few yards before turning to get back on it again, nobody realised it was because he had seen a nearby Tube station was closed.

To many steeped in counter-terrorism work, those movements would have appeared an attempt to lose a tail.

Dr Sandra Bell, of the Royal United Services Institute, told the BBC the force still needs to answer tough questions about how it manages critical information that can change the nature of an operation.

"Continuously throughout this trial we heard it was not an ideal situation - but in this information age, that really isn't an excuse," she said.

"This was something that had been going on for at least 24 hours, plenty enough time in my mind to take that long-term view and put a proper top-down command and control structure in.

"I think they really need to take a long hard look at their command structures."

New systems

Since July 2005 the force has introduced something called the Knowledge Management Centre to improve how top officers receive and process information in emergencies.

One test of the system was Operation Linchpin, a scenario scrutinising how commanders would deal with a suicide bomber on the loose. Those who saw the role-play judged it a success. The system was used for real in the Alexander Litvinenko radiation poisoning case and the alleged London and Glasgow car bombs of June 2007.

The Met says this system has helped improve how they manage information. But when Cressida Dick took the stand during the trial, she stressed that no operations room can second-guess officers who have their lives on the line. The jury accepted that argument - and said they believed she bore no personal culpability for the tragedy.

And it is those split-second life-and-death decisions that will continue to matter.

The Met runs a computerised training simulation called the Judgement Range. In one scenario, officers armed with training laser guns must apprehend a suicide bomber.

One police observer who has experienced the simulation told the BBC that it is terrifying. "It's a lose-lose situation for the officer," he said after failing to stop the bomber from detonating. "It's difficult to see what I could have done to avert the outcome."

Whatever the faults of the Metropolitan Police exposed by this trial, that is the terrible reality of someone intent on murdering others by killing himself.

What the decision means for Sir Ian Blair

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific