UK Politics

Root Causes

Oliver Kamm writes:

Everyone can understand that policemen have to take an immediate decision on the threat to the public from a suspected terrorist, and there can be no serious principled objection to – and from me at least, strong support for – their being prepared to shoot if they believe the lives of the public are endangered. But it is baffling – genuinely so; I can’t begin to see how this terrible mistaken identification could have been made – to trail a suspect and finally see no option but to shoot dead a man who we now know was harmless and must have been scared witless. There may in fact have been reasonable (if obviously mistaken) grounds for police suspicion of Mr Menezes, but at the moment it does not look that way. If the police tailed him from Tulse Hill, did they have any grounds for regarding his behaviour as potentially threatening, and if so why did they not apprehend him before he boarded a bus or a train? Did they hear him speak? If so, were their suspicions in any way allayed or were they heightened? Or were they unable to tell, so shot anyway? (I lived in Stockwell for 12 years, and it is rare to be on Stockwell Road for more than a few minutes without hearing Portuguese spoken; you would hope that the police know this distinctive character of the area.)

This all argues for an appalling and careless failure of intelligence that must be cleared up. Mistakes do happen, and sometimes for understandable reasons – but those reasons don’t protect those who have failed.

Ken Livingstone… is strictly right to say that Mr Menezes’s killing “has added another victim to the toll of deaths for which the terrorists bear responsibility”, in the sense that had the terrorists not killed then Mr Menezes would be alive today. But the form of his argument is is ominously reminiscent of the ‘root cause’ fallacy that blames the London bombings on our overthrowing Saddam Hussein. Leaving aside the question of whether this is true (as it is in the first case, and is not in the second), it is the wrong thing to say, when by definition – for an innocent man has been killed – a terrible failure of policing has happened and it is essential that the risks of its happening again be minimised.