Ian Blair's reforms must survive him

The next commissioner's main task will be restoring the confidence of those committed to change

I have never been a fan of Ian Blair, or any other police officer. Yet I have seen huge changes since his promotion, necessary ones, and have offered him my critical support. He, more than any of his predecessors at Scotland Yard, took on board the com plaint that racism was being used as a weapon in policing the black and Asian communities.

Previous commissioners would not budge on this issue. It took protests fired by intense violence for those in authority to yield to the demand for change. Blair's appointment as commissioner was a declaration that the old way of doing things had come to an end.

Blair has registered huge successes with the support of many of his men and women and, equally important, the black community. But he has made formidable enemies, too. As a consequence, he has had to live dangerously. The press regularly published negative reports originating from within his organisation. Senior black police officers promoted under his stewardship were accused of corruption. Witch-hunts undermined the authority of black policemen above the rank of sergeant. The wolves were already after him.

Blair's fate lay in the hands of his namesake, the former prime minister, whose support and approbation he desperately needed, faced as he was with this journalistic onslaught. The rise of suicide bombings from the Pakistani and Somali communities, trading under the banner of Islam, seemed to offer Blair a chance to restore his flagging authority. He allowed himself to be convinced that we were engaged in a war against terror and that his force would be in the vanguard. He was filmed going in and out of No 10 with an amazing regularity. In the heat of these moments, he wholeheartedly embraced the shoot-to-kill policy.

Commander Cressida Dick was sent to the Middle East to secure the expertise Blair thought was needed to carry out this deadly course of action. But the police force over which Blair presided was in no way fit to prosecute a war. Long-established traditions had to be ripped apart and replaced by new ones imported from the Middle East. This plunge into military action came under little scrutiny; there was no way to test the efficacy of the method being adopted.

Then came that fateful day - with four failed bombers on the loose - when shoot-to-kill went live. It should have secured Blair's place as the nation's hero and saviour. Instead, the opposite took place. His plans backfired. His force made 19 critical errors. This is Blair's responsibility, and his alone.

The fallout has been a tremendous set back to the movement for change in police forces up and down the country. In the wake of the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, the canteen culture came back with a vengeance. It was there that officers of the shoot-to-kill posse gathered on the day after the killing to launch the frame-up of their victim. Statements given by witnesses were mangled to conceal the fact that de Menezes was never challenged before he was shot seven times in the head at point blank range. Officers suggested he was behaving like a cocaine addict. They even doctored a photo to make him look like one of the suicide bombers.

Though Blair may hang on for a while with support from the Prime Minister and Home Secretary, his office is paralysed, and I cannot see him lasting another year. What matters now is who will replace him. The next commissioner's main task will be restoring the confidence of those committed to change. The methods of the shoot-to-kill brigade must be cast aside at once by the incoming commissioner and the best qualities of Blair's regime restored and extended.

By Darcus Howe

Darcus Howe is an outspoken writer, broadcaster and social commentator. His TV work includes ‘White Tribe’ in which he put Anglo-Saxon Britain under the spotlight. He also fronted a series called Devil’s Advocate.

This article first appeared in New best friends?

2007-11-19