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Keystone Cops

I always find it is the fine detail in official reports that holds the real interest. Sometimes, it is because an astute author knows he will never get what he wants into the conclusions, but can get it into the detail. The best recent example of that is Robin Butler’s masterly report on WMD. At other times, like the Stockwell 2 report, it is not intentional.

Jean Charles de Menezes was shot by police at 10:16am on a Friday on a stationary tube train at Stockwell station. He had on him a wallet containing a Brazilian ID photocard with his name and Brazilian nationality. It also contained a Halifax bank card. By phoning the National Terrorist Funding Investigation Unit, a policeman could easily establish (typically in under an hour) that the bank account was valid and get the address associated with it (which was 17 Scotia Road). He was also carrying a letter addressed to him at 17 Scotia Road and a mobile phone with umpteen Brazilian names loaded into the short-dial directory.

This evidence would have been enough to reveal almost instantly that a terrible mistake had been made. The clincher was the address. One of the suspects for the previous day’s failed bombings was known to be associated with 21 Scotia Road. A single building, with a single entrance, housed 14-22 Scotia Road. It was under surveillance but only from the outside. When Menezes left the building, no one knew which flat he had come from and no one was able to positively identify him. So ID showing that he had the wrong nationality and was from the wrong flat was nearly conclusive. As it happened, two relatives lived with him at 17, so it would only have taken another half-hour to get conclusive identification.

How long did it actually take? Remember that this was no routine investigation. Scotland Yard’s finest were on the case. The team was knee-deep in superintendents and higher ranks. No expense was being spared.

I think my guess would be about 10 minutes and another 20 minutes to get the final positive ID from the relatives (assuming one of them was in). Finding and reading the ID and the letter, maybe 1 minute. Calling in the bank details to headquarters maybe another 5 minutes (someone would have had to walk out of the tube station to get a mobile or police radio connection to call it in). Getting confirmation from the bank, maybe 10 minutes (forget the usual hour, this was one of the highest priority cases ever, and it was well within ordinary office hours). Scrolling through the phone names, calling them in, and recognizing them as consistent with a Brazilian, 5 minutes in parallel with the above.

So my guess was 30 minutes total for final confirmation of a terrible blunder. But no, I forgot something. The shot man had no jacket and no bulky belongings of any kind, so you or I might not worry too much about explosives, the famous “shoe bomber” notwithstanding. But well, there are procedures for this kind of thing. It turns out that it took 16 minutes, bringing us to 10:30am, for an “explosives officer” to get to the scene and pronounce him clear of explosives. So that should bring us to 11am for final confirmation of the blunder, right?

Well no, not exactly.

There was another issue. The exciting scenes had been witnessed by numerous members of the public. The shooting had taken place on a train with several security personnel on it (unclear whether they were police, security services, army or a mixture) as well as several members of the public, plus, of course, his corpse was still there. So it could easily have been established that Menezes was not dressed in a bulky jacket, suspicious on a summer day. Equally, that he had not been behaving in a suspicious way. However, some members of the public at the entrance to the station had seen a man vaulting the barrier rather than using a ticket. This was suspicious behaviour, so it must have been the dead man who must have been a terrorist, so the ID must be wrong, right?

Actually, the vaulter wasn’t Menezes. It was one of the umpteen people following him, probably a firearms officer trying to catch up. Now there were two ways of sorting out this confusion. One was to ask the Met team which of them had jumped the barrier, the other was to look at the security cameras covering the entrance. The latter is probably quicker, so maybe an extra 15 minutes for that (view body, get tape, rewind, view). But hold on, one could do that in parallel with finding the relative. So still 11am?

In the event, it apparently took 3 hours (until 1.15pm) for someone to make the first breakthrough, which was to find lot of “Latin” names which did not look remotely “Arabic” or “Asian” in the phone. Another hour and a half (2:45pm) to find the Brazilian photo ID, but apparently several more hours to convince the Met it matched the body. Another 3 1/4 hours for someone to phone the National Terrorist Funding Investigation Unit (normal priority) and another hour (bringing us to 7pm, nearly nine hours after the shooting) to get the answer and – big breakthrough – the address, 17 Scotia Road. Another 1 1/14 hours to look at the letter which also had the address.

Oh, and the security camera. Well, that had to wait until the following morning. And the interview with the relatives? Well they were contacted the following afternoon.

This crack team, supplied with information by the even more exceptional security services, are apparently what stands between us and the terrorists, who are still out there plotting. It is fortunate that the terrorists seem even more comical!

{ 1 } Comments

  1. Tom Welsh | 5 August 2007 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

    Unfortunately, your title reflects only one side of this tragicomedy. The Keystone Cops were absurd, but never homicidal. I think something like “The Keystone Cops Meet The KGB” would be more balanced.

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