The Stockwell tube shooting

After shooting a man dead on Friday, the police have announced that he was not in fact connected to the inquiry over the London bombings:

A Scotland Yard spokesman said last night that there would be an inquiry. “We are satisfied the victim of the Stockwell Tube shooting is not linked to our terrorist inquiry. For somebody to lose their life in such circumstances is a tragedy and one the Metropolitan police regrets.

“The man emerged from a block of flats in the Stockwell area that were under police surveillance as part of the investigation into the incidents on Thursday, July 21. He was followed by surveillance officers to the Underground station. His clothing and behaviour added to their suspicions. The circumstances that led to the man’s death are being investigated.”

Clearly things went badly wrong here for the police to shoot dead someone who was not carrying out a suicide attack, and one hopes that the investigation will clear up what exactly happened. It is too early to judge what happened here.

However, it seems to me that if the police had good reason to suspect that Mr Menezes was on his way to carrying out a suicide bombing, then they did not have much choice, when confronted with his refusal to obey police instructions to stop and his subsequent fleeing into a tube station including jumping a turnstile and running onto a tube train, but to do what they can to stop him. Had this really been a suicide bomber carrying out an attack, then it seems to me that shooting him dead was the right thing to do, to prevent many more lives being lost.

The sad fact is that since the emergence of suicide bombing in this country, the police face a very difficult situation when faced with someone they believe may be about to carry out such an attack. Failure to act could lead to dozens of people dying. Acting may require shooting the suspect dead. It follows that mistakes will be made.

Of course we should establish what happened to see if anything could have been done to prevent this tragedy, and if it becomes clear that the police had been incompetent then those responsible for the incompetence should face the music. But it is possible that, based on the information they had at the time of the incident, they had no choice but to do what they did. Such is the nature of the situation we face with the arrivial of suicide bombing in Britain.

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