UK's top cop set to face no-confidence vote

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LONDON, Nov 22 (Reuters) Britain's most senior police officer, London Commissioner Sir Ian Blair, is set to face a vote of no-confidence today over the fatal shooting of a Brazilian electrician mistaken by officers for a suicide bomber.

Blair will face a meeting of the 23-member Metropolitan Police Authority, which oversees London's force and can remove him with the approval of Home Secretary Jacqui Smith.

He will almost certainly face a vote of no-confidence at the meeting, although he is likely to survive thanks to the support of Labour and independent members.

On November 1 Blair's force was found guilty in an unprecedented trial under workplace health and safety laws of failing to protect the public over the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, shot dead by officers on an underground train on July 22, 2005.

They believed he was one of four men who had tried to carry out suicide bombings on the capital's transport system the day before, but failed to stop him before he boarded the train.

Blair was criticised by an independent watchdog for trying initially trying to block their inquiry into the killing.

Since the health and safety trial he has faced almost daily calls for his resignation but has insisted he will not quit, saying that crime in the capital is falling and it would be wrong for him to be hounded out of his job.

The debate has also become increasingly political.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown's government has given backing to Blair, a key ally on issues such as extending the time terrorism suspects can be detained without charge and introducting compulsory identity cards.

Opposition Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have called for his head, saying his position was now untenable.

''I regret to say that in view of the systemic failures that led to the death of Mr de Menezes, the public can have little confidence that Sir Ian Blair is the right person to ensure those vital lessons are learnt,'' Conservative home affairs spokesman wrote in a letter to Smith.

The two opposition parties combined at a meeting of the London Assembly earlier this month to pass a vote of no-confidence in Commissioner Blair, a symbolic gesture as the local authority has no power to remove him from office.

The capital's mayor, Labour's Ken Livingstone, has also firmly thrown his support behind Blair and a poll last week indicated that more Londoners thought he should stay than go.

According to the YouGov survey, 37 per cent of respondents backed Blair's sacking while 44 per cent said he should not lose his job.

REUTERS TB BST0604

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