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October - November 2007

Political News

Inside Britain

July 7 survivors begin legal challenge

Lawyers acting for victims of the July 7 bombings have begun legal proceedings seeking to force the government to hold a public inquiry into the attack.

The group of survivors and relatives have applied for a High Court review of the government’s decision not to hold an inquiry into events leading up the 2005 terrorist attack, which killed 52 travellers along with the four bombers.

Previous requests for a public and independent inquiry have been rebuffed by ministers, with former prime minister Tony Blair saying such an investigation would distract the security services from doing a “very, very tough and difficult job”.

Solicitors for the survivors, Oury Clark, said its clients were “disappointed and saddened” at having to take the matter to court.

“Their obviously preferred position was not to enter into litigation,” said senior partner James Oury.

“However, they recognise the wider public interest involved and the international importance of finding out the truth of events leading up to these July 7 bombings.”

The victims suspect “systematic failings” in communication between the government, police and MI5, and have argued there is continuing uncertainty over events leading up to the attacks.

The group’s action came after it emerged that MI5 had come across two of the bombers, including ringleader Mohammed Sidique Khan, while investigating another group of plotters but let them slip through the net.

Oury Clark said action was necessary because the Home Office had said it would respond to a “pre-action protocol letter” by September 7 - after the August 30 deadline for civil proceedings.

Shadow home secretary David Davis backed the move, saying:”There is no doubt that, after three attempted terrorist attacks slipped through the net, we need to be absolutely certain that we have learned every lesson for security and closed every loophole available to would be terrorists.

“The Conservative Party has been calling for an independent inquiry into the July 7 bombings for some time.”

The Home Office said on Thursday afternoon it had not been served with judicial review proceedings. A spokesman said: “The Home Office cannot comment further as it has not received any papers.”

Watchdog reports on Menezes case

The Independent Police Complaints Commission is due to report on how the Met Police acted after the shooting of Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes.

The IPCC has examined statements issued by police after the 27-year-old was mistakenly shot dead by officers at Stockwell Tube station on 22 July 2005.

He was mistaken for a suicide bomber in the wake of the 7 July London bombings and failed 21 July attacks.

His family says inaccurate information was given to the public by officers.

On 22 July 2005, a surveillance team had been monitoring a block of flats in Tulse Hill, south London, where Mr Menezes lived.

They believed a man wanted in connection with the previous day’s attempted suicide bombings in London lived there.

When Mr Menezes emerged from the flats, he was wrongly identified as the suspect and was followed to Stockwell, where he was shot seven times in the head and once in the shoulder as he boarded a Tube train.

After the IPCC’s Stockwell One report into the events surrounding the shooting, the Crown Prosecution Service decided last year that no individual would be prosecuted in connection with the case.

However, the Metropolitan Police is facing trial under health and safety legislation in October.

Its Stockwell Two report relates to the complaints of inaccurate information given to the public.

The report will go into minute detail about who knew what and when in the hours following the fatal shooting.

The two-year investigation looked into claims that senior police officers were aware an innocent man had been killed earlier than was announced.

It also examined whether they failed to correct wrong information suggesting Mr Menezes acted suspiciously before his death.

The dead man’s family have complained that inaccurate information was given to the public by officers including Commissioner Sir Ian Blair.

They have also complained that police had not corrected early reports suggesting Mr Menezes had vaulted ticket barriers and had been wearing a bulky jacket.

Many people still think, ‘Oh well, he was wearing a bulky jacket, he jumped the barrier, the police tried to stop him and he refused’

The Justice4Jean group said misinformation about Mr Menezes’ actions on the day had “added insult to injury”.

Spokeswoman Yasmin Khan told BBC News: “Many people still think, ‘Oh well, he was wearing a bulky jacket, he jumped the barrier, the police tried to stop him and he refused’.

“And the real question for the family is why the police allowed that information to circulate when they knew it wasn’t true.”

On Wednesday, it was reported that the inquiry had examined the role played by Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman - the UK’s most senior counter terrorist-officer.

He has been accused of failing to tell the commissioner at the first opportunity of his suspicions that an innocent man had been killed.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, London Mayor Ken Livingstone dismissed “the idea this is some sort of catastrophic error of judgement on the part of an officer who I have tremendous respect for”.

Mr Hayman’s “counter-terrorism activity has saved dozens of lives in this city”, he added.

It has also emerged the IPCC had made “minor changes” to the report after a legal challenge by officers who were criticised in it.

Profits jump at British Gas firm

British Gas-owner Centrica has reported a near doubling in half-year operating profits to £1.25bn.

The residential business of British Gas made a £533m profit in the six months to June, against a £143m loss in 2006.

British Gas has cut prices twice this year. However, Centrica said more cuts were unlikely in 2007, as wholesale gas prices for the coming winter are high.

Centrica also said it would be cutting a further 300 jobs across the group, on top of 1,550 cuts already announced.

Profits at British Gas were helped in the first half of the year by lower wholesale gas costs over the winter months. British Gas announced its first set of price cuts for customers in February, although they did not come into effect until March. The results in the first six months have been due to exceptional circumstances and will not be repeated in the second half, said Roger Carr, Centrica chairman

The firm said the price cuts had helped to recruit 46,000 new users in the second quarter of the year, raising total customer numbers to 15.8 million. However, Centrica chief executive Sam Laidlaw rejected criticism that British Gas could have cut prices sooner.

“We clearly had a very volatile price. We moved very quickly,” he told the BBC.

“We moved in February when if you remember it was actually still snowing. And certainly we wanted to try and pass those price reductions through as soon as we possibly could.”

Last year, about a million British Gas customers switched to other suppliers. Centrica said improving customer service at British Gas remained a “top priority”.

“Whilst we have some way to go, we have progressively strengthened our performance in this area.”

While the lower wholesale costs benefited British Gas’s results, they hit Centrica’s production business, with Centrica Energy’s operating profits down 42% to £337m.

Centrica said that wholesale gas prices were set to climb in the months ahead.

“Wholesale gas prices for the coming winter are high and there is still uncertainty over the level of price volatility and customer demand due to unpredictable weather patterns.”

PM ‘advised to hold early poll’

Gordon Brown was advised by a key Labour strategist to hold an early election after his “significant honeymoon” as prime minister.

Labour pollster Philip Gould told Mr Brown, before he became leader, that he needed to be “a powerful, muscular modernisation politician”.

His advice, leaked to the Daily Mirror, included having “a short period of intense and compelling activity”.

A Whitehall source told the BBC that the memo was written two years ago.

The source said that neither Mr Brown nor his advisers could remember seeing the document, apparently written just after the 2005 general election when discussions were taking place about a transition from Tony Blair to Mr Brown.

In the leaked memo, published in edited form , Lord Gould warned that the next election will be much tougher than the last for Labour.

To hold on to - and improve - its majority, Labour needed “a bold election strategy designed to dramatically drive our vote up”.

He added: “We have to have a strategy of audacious advance. The best way of achieving this is to hold an early election after a short period of intense and compelling activity.

Lord Gould was an influential adviser to Mr Blair and seen as a key New Labour architect.

Confident that Mr Brown would take over from Mr Blair, Lord Gould also said: “It is inconceivable that you will not enjoy a significant honeymoon when you become leader.

“You need to build on this and translate it into a new mandate. I am sure this strategy will work.”

And he adds: “You must start election planning early. We can’t leave it late as we did last time. We must make a start.”

The Whitehall source told the BBC not to “rule anything out” regarding the timing of a general election but suggested that it was more likely to be next year than this autumn.

Lord Gould urged the then chancellor, who became leader in late June, to “exemplify renewal, change, and a fresh start. Your premiership has to have a dynamism and an energy that pulls people along in its slipstream. You must become the change Britain needs.”

Trying to emulate the “charismatic” Mr Blair would be “foolish”, Lord Gould warned, but he was optimistic that Mr Brown would be able to present his own “true potential as a person and a leader”.

The UK prime minister can call an election at any time up to May 2010. Recent practice has seen an election every four years, which is why May 2009 is still seen as the most likely date.

Former Labour Party treasurer Lady Prosser said the party did not have the money to campaign at the moment - but also said the speculation was not a ploy to shore up support from donors.

“I would have thought there would be greater reasons for donors to want to contribute to the Labour Party rather than simply for a snap election - I think the new prime minister and a sort of new start for Labour.

“I don’t doubt that there are quite a few people out there going to be prepared to give, but that’s not just come through just quite yet.”

Party vice chairman Martin Salter has said that Labour was ready for an election “whenever the prime minister chooses to call it.”

Liberal Democrats and Conservatives have also said they are ready for an election.

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