LONDON, Nov. 17 (UPI) -- Police were wrong to secretly implement a shoot-to-kill policy against suspected suicide bombers that led to the killing of an innocent Brazilian man, British Police Chief Sir Ian Blair has said.
The Metropolitan Police Commissioner called for a public debate on the use of lethal force against suspected terrorists in the wake of the July 7 bombings in London. He said the attacks had already changed the face of British policing, and urged the public to decide what kind of police force they wanted.
His comments came as the Metropolitan Police sank further into controversy over the mistaken killing of Jean Charles de Menezes, a Brazilian who was mistaken for a suicide bomber in the aftermath of the July attacks. It emerged Wednesday police shot de Menezes with bullets that rupture inside the body and are banned under international warfare conventions.
Delivering a televised lecture, Blair said: "That deeply regrettable death makes even louder the question, 'What kind of police service do we want?'"
He defended the use of the "shoot-to-kill" policy that led to de Menezes' death, arguing it was impossible to protect Britons from terrorist attack without taking such risks.
However, he believed it was for the public, not the police, to decide if that was the kind of police force Britain wanted.
Blair said he wanted the Metropolitan Police to remain largely unarmed -- currently only around 10 percent of officers carry firearms -- but added there needed to be debate about how a primarily unarmed force combated terrorism.
"The dreadful death of Mr. de Menezes is a watershed," he said.
"Until now, the police have discussed the strategy and tactics for using lethal force behind closed doors, open only to police authority members, Home Office officials, ministers and some specialist advisers. That has to change. An open debate is now required, not just about how the police deal with suicide bombers, but about how, in a liberal democracy, a largely unarmed service uses lethal force in any and all circumstances.
"Within that national debate, we need particularly to examine the use of force inside a liberal democracy and the balance between protection against terror with long held civil liberties."
However, he urged the public to make such judgments within the framework of the "new reality" of terrorism.
"Terror has changed its methods -- or, more accurately, brought some existing methods to Britain for the first time," he said.
"Britain remains a target of the highest possible priority to al-Qaida and its affiliates; we are in a new reality. The sky is dark. The terrorists seek mass casualties and are entirely indiscriminate."
He continued: "The police will need authority, tactics and equipment to deal with attacks similar to those of July and far, far worse: most important of all, we will need to draw that authority from a public which understands us and the dilemmas we face."
The Met chief acknowledged policing was becoming "a contestable political issue as never before."
Senior police officers became embroiled in a political row recently when they requested an extension of the period they could hold terror suspects without charge from 14 to 90 days. The government put the proposal before Parliament but was defeated last week. Ministers were later accused of using the police to lobby politicians.
Blair accepted the decision, saying "Parliament has decided and their will is sovereign.
"Police intervention in the discussion and, right or wrong, subsequent parliamentary disquiet about that may both be symptomatic of the absence of a forum for public debate and of the increased political significance of policing."
Just how such a forum for debate will be established is unclear. However, civil liberties campaigners will welcome the call for greater transparency and accountability over policies such as shoot-to-kill.
Few in Britain were aware that the Metropolitan Police had adopted the policy until the killing of de Menezes, shot by plain clothes police eight times at close range on a busy underground train on July 22.
It later emerged the policy, named Operation Kratos, had been adopted a year earlier, after advice from Israeli security forces on how to deal with suicide bombers.
The killing is still under investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, but has become increasingly mired in controversy. Media leaks of eyewitness and police testimony to the commission have suggested a version of events entirely at odds with that given by police -- including Ian Blair himself -- in the immediate aftermath of the incident.
It later transpired Blair had written to the IPCC chairman trying to delay an independent inquiry, a revelation which led to calls for his resignation.
In the latest twist, it was reported by the Telegraph newspaper Wednesday that police had used hollow point or "dum dum" bullets on de Menezes, munitions which are banned in warfare.
The bullets, which expand and splinter inside the victim's body, were prohibited for military use under the Hague Convention of I899. However, the Home Office said Wednesday there was no restriction on their domestic use.
But like the shoot-to-kill policy, the decision to make such bullets available to officers was made in secret.
Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary Mark Oaten wrote to the IPCC chairman Wednesday urging him to expand the investigation into de Menezes' death to include the way in which the Metropolitan Police had handled their media and communications.
It was in the public interest to clarify the statements made by the Metropolitan Police in the aftermath of the shooting, and the nature of discussions between the Met, the Home Office and the IPCC, Oaten said
"Whilst I acknowledge this was a difficult and in many ways unprecedented operational situation, there remain a number of unanswered questions over the Metropolitan Police's handling of the public demand for information. It is important to establish that they took every opportunity to correct facts and information that they knew were inaccurate."