I read the news about the appointment of Cressida Dick to the top police job in the country with mixed feelings.
I was certainly pleased that her appointments as the first female Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police meant that another part of the “glass ceiling” barring women from top jobs had been smashed. But I immediately remembered where I’d heard her name before. Dick was the senior officer in charge of the police operation in 2005 which led to the fatal shooting by a police officer at a tube station of an entirely innocent man: Jean Charles de Menezes. His only crime was, in today’s words by Owen Jones, to “look like he might be foreign”.
The context of the shooting is important. The atmosphere was febrile, less than 48 hours after the London bombings of 7th July 2005 by Islamist extremists on 3 tube trains and a London bus. 52 people died and over 700 were injured in the attacks. The police were under enormous pressure to find and arrest anyone associated with the four suicide bombers. I’ve always felt an enormous sympathy for the police officers who shot de Menezes at close range, thinking he was a suicide bomber who was about to detonate his bomb on the tube train. These officers had taken enormous personal risk to take down a presumed bomber, only find later they had been told to pursue the wrong man, who had absolutely no connection with the 07/07 attacks.
Those officers have had to live their days since in that awful knowledge. Dick, as the Police Commander in charge had issued the order that the presumed bomber be “detained as soon as possible”. It was widely assumed at the time that, at the very least, Commander Dick’s career would forever be tainted by suspicion. One cannot help but be impressed that her own personal qualities have enabled her to overcome this dreadful incident and rise to the top. From the media coverage, it seems that the two people ultimately responsible for her appointment – Home Secretary Amber Rudd and London Mayor Sadiq Khan – were both convinced she was the best candidate.
De Menezes’ Family
It was no surprise that de Menezes’ family criticised the appointment of Dick yesterday. His cousin expressed “serious concerns” and expressed doubt that Dick could command the confidence of the public in such a high-profile and often controversial role. A sorry part of the aftermath of de Menezes’ shooting was that, on several occasions, the Metropolitan Police, including its most senior officers, treated his family shabbily, to say the least. Yesterday’s news must seem like another enormous kick in the teeth.
Is it too much to hope that some accommodation could be found between the Met and the relatives of Jean Charles de Menezes? During her very busy period preparing for her new job, might it be possible for Commissioner-elect Dick to take time to meet the members of the family – to apologize in person and to hold a frank and private discussion as to what happened on that fateful day? A hand of reconciliation offered to the relatives of an innocent victim of police error would be a good way for the first female “top cop” to begin her role.