Critics call for Met chief to be replaced

LONDON Fri Nov 2, 2007 7:11pm GMT

1 of 11. Ian Blair, Commissioner of London's Metropolitan Police, addresses the media outside the Old Bailey, November 1, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Dylan Martinez

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LONDON (Reuters) - Critics called for Metropolitan Police Commissioner Ian Blair to be replaced on Friday after a jury convicted his force of endangering the public by shooting dead an innocent man in 2005 when he was mistaken for a suicide bomber.

Blair said after Thursday's verdict he would stay on because the court had not found "systemic failures" by the police force.

Police shot Brazilian electrician Jean Charles de Menezes, 27, seven times in the head after he boarded an underground train in south London on July 22, 2005.

They had spotted him leaving an apartment block and wrongly identified him as one of four men who had tried to attack the city's transport system a day earlier. They trailed him to the underground station.

The Conservative Party's spokesman for law and order, David Davis, wrote to Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, urging her to replace Blair.

"The trial shed light on serial, systemic errors ... We now need the right leadership, at every level, in order to restore public confidence," Davis wrote.

Smith and Prime Minister Gordon Brown have stood by Blair.

Labour MP Kate Hoey, whose south London constituency includes Stockwell station where de Menezes was killed, joined the chorus calling for Blair to go.

But London Mayor Ken Livingstone defended Blair and said it would be disastrous if the jury's verdict made armed police officers second-guess their actions when they believed they were chasing a suicide bomber.

"In some circumstances, inevitably, so much is happening there will be mistakes," he told the BBC.

Three members of the Metropolitan Police Authority -- the London police force's 23-member oversight body -- called for an extraordinary meeting of the group which could lead to a vote of no confidence in Blair's leadership.

London police were fined 175,000 pounds on Thursday for putting the public in danger over the shooting and ordered to pay 385,000 pounds in legal costs.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission, which ensures complaints against the police are dealt with properly, is due to release a long-awaited report into the shooting in the next few days, which could put further pressure on Blair to resign.