PERHAPS the most astounding piece of information to emerge from yesterday's claim and counter-claim, accusation and counter-accusation, over the de Menezes shoot-to-kill affair was that Mr Nick Hardwick, the head of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), which is investigating the incident, is currently on holiday. The IPCC was created in April of last year and little is known about how it operates but it is unlikely that anything that has come its way since it began work has been of the importance of the killing of the innocent Jean Charles de Menezes by armed police at Stockwell underground station on July 22. Whichever way you look at it the implications of this incident are profound in relation to the British way of life and the role of the police in it. Yet Mr Hardwick is on holiday! Yesterday's meeting between the lawyers of Mr de Menezes and officials of the IPCC, following the previous day's leak of new and worrying information showing inconsistencies in police evidence about the shooting, was clearly unsatisfactory. The lawyers wanted to know why the inquiry was taking so long and, in particular why it did not start until three days after the Stockwell shooting took place. There is in fact a statutory requirement for the IPCC to involve itself in an inquiry at the earliest possible moment. In this case the delay may have been caused by the intervention of Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, who wrote to the Home Office suggesting that any inquiry into the shooting should be handled internally rather than by the IPCC. To its credit the Home Office turned down this proposal but vital hours if not days were lost for the IPCC to begin gathering information and questioning witnesses. The IPCC and the police are complaining about the leaks from the inquiry. If the IPCC would name a date for the publication of its report the leaks might stop; but if there is no date, they will continue because the longer the delay and the uncertainty the more people are worried about a cover-up. When Mr Hardwick returns from his holiday his first task should be to announce when the IPCC will issue its report.


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