A cop with paramilitary pretensions

They were given the order to shoot to kill - and this referred to anyone they deemed a suicide bombe

I will not hunt with the pack. Whether Sir Ian Blair lied or not over the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes is a matter between him and his God. Much more than that was involved in this disastrous episode in the Met's history.

The Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police bought hook, line and sinker the idea that he and his force had to abandon the ordinary pursuits of policing to plunge themselves into that other Blair's "war against terror". I went on record, in this column, warning Sir Ian to stay away from Downing Street and to focus on his job of dragging the Met out of a cobwebbed past and into the modern world.

He had my sympathy, as he was buffeted by the old guard in his organisation. His insistence on lifting talented blacks and Asians from lowly positions to roles they deserved earned him the wrath of the Daily Mail and others who dubbed him the politically correct commissioner. Perhaps he thought his new, paramilitary status would free him from the abuse of right-wing journalists and fellow officers. He was wrong.

Blair transformed his force into a land army. His officers were off the leash. They were given the order to shoot to kill - and this referred to anyone they deemed a suicide bomber.

The new regime warmed to its task. A team was shipped out to Israel, Sri Lanka and Russia to learn from their experiences of dealing with suicide bombers. We know what was the most important lesson learned on these trips: the need to buy time to identify the suspect through accurate intelligence and to intercept the bomber as far away as possible from the intended target.

So, Jean Charles de Menezes's fate was sealed when Hussain Osman, one of the failed gang of four 21 July bombers, was targeted as living on Scotia Road, Tulse Hill, in the same house in which the Brazilian lived. The Met, armed with the pompous military title "Gold Command", set in motion the task of tracking him down and executing him. The target was wrong; the location was doubly wrong - Osman was in Italy when Gold Command set off on that fateful day, 22 July 2005. The first surveillance officer was poised to take video footage of the suspect to send down the line. His bladder suddenly popped and he turned away to pee. No footage was taken, even though he identified de Menezes as Osman.

I asked a military officer, who was trained at Sandhurst, what happens when the first surveillance comes into contact with the target and his bladder explodes. He answered: "Piss in his trousers." These ill-disciplined officers, unfit for purpose, could not correct this early mistake during that journey from Tulse Hill to Stockwell. Men ezes was murdered by trigger-happy cops elevated to soldier status with code names such as Hotel 1, Hotel 2 and Hotel 3. It was all pomp and ceremony, signifying nothing.

The field marshal remained in his bunker at Scotland Yard, out of touch with his men and women on the ground. The disinformation proceeded within minutes of the Brazilian's execution: "illegal immigrant" and "Pakistani" just two of the identifications tossed out to a hungry press. The field marshal then left the bunker for an early night, his mission unaccomplished. The war was over before it even began.

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 the 13 August 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Road fix