The head of a national police group who died suddenly was remembered today for his “tireless” work for officers during one of the most turbulent times in the force's history.
Chairman of the Police Federation for England and Wales Paul McKeever, 57, died last night after suffering a suspected embolism.
Tributes were paid today by a string of policing colleagues and Home Secretary Theresa May, with whom Mr McKeever had heated clashes.
Mrs May said: "I was deeply saddened to hear the news today of Paul McKeever's death. He gave more than 35 years of his life to the police in a long and distinguished career, including risking his own personal safety at the frontline in the Brixton riots.
"As chairman of the Police Federation, he worked tirelessly on behalf of rank and file officers across the country and I know they will join with me in mourning his loss today."
Mr McKeever, who was married with one daughter, was just two weeks away from retirement, having announced his departure last summer.
At the time he said: "I cannot stay within a service that is having the Office of Constable attacked, police officers denigrated and public safety put at risk."
He had also accused Mrs May of being "on the precipice of destroying a police service that is admired and replicated throughout the world".
Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) president Sir Hugh Orde said: "The sad news of Paul McKeever's death has come as a shock to the policing family.
"Paul and I served together as Pcs in London. Paul worked tirelessly in his role as Police Federation chairman and was a passionate advocate and voice for public safety and the rank and file."
Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe sent his condolences to the veteran police officer's family.
The son of the late Pc David Rathband, who was shot and blinded by gun maniac Raoul Moat while on duty, also paid tribute. Ash Rathband said he was "completely shocked" at the loss of a "genuinely lovely man".
Mr McKeever was among those who praised Pc Rathband's bravery and paid tribute himself when the officer was found dead at his Northumberland home last February.
Chairman-elect of the Police Federation Steve Williams said: "He was a truly outstanding chairman, and most importantly a truly outstanding police officer and man. A true gentleman, his leadership and reputation will be remembered highly by all those who knew him."
Mr McKeever was recently embroiled in the so-called "plebgate" scandal involving former chief whip Andrew Mitchell.
Mr Mitchell was forced to quit his Cabinet post amid a storm of protest - fuelled by the Police Federation - over claims that he called officers "plebs" during a spat in Downing Street.
Earlier in the affair, Mr McKeever stepped up pressure on Mr Mitchell to hand in his resignation, saying it was "hard to fathom how someone who holds the police in such contempt could be allowed to hold a public office".
But subsequent claims suggested Mr Mitchell could have been the target of an alleged conspiracy involving officers, which is now the subject of a Scotland Yard investigation.
Mr McKeever acknowledged concerns that his organisation had "stoked up" attention on Mr Mitchell, adding that he would apologise to the MP if the new investigation showed he had been wrongly accused.
He started his policing career in 1977, when he joined the Metropolitan Police straight from London University, and his career included policing the Brixton riots in 1981 and 1985.
A Harlequins Rugby Football Club fan, he later served in Bromley Borough as a police sergeant and performed a number of different roles within the Met Police before being elected to thePolice Federation in 1992.
He was appointed Federation chairman in May 2008 and held a number of other roles including chairman of the Staff Side of the UK Police Negotiating Board and a board member for thePolice Leadership College.
Metropolitan Police Federation chairman John Tully said: "It has come as a total shock to everyone, it is completely out of the blue.
"He led the Federation through perhaps the most demanding time in history and was within two weeks of retirement."
President of the Police Superintendents' Association of England and Wales Derek Barnett said: "He was a fine police officer and outstanding leader of the Police Federation through some of the most demanding times in policing.
"Having committed a significant part of his life to the police service, and the Police Federation in particular, it is a tragedy that he and his family have been denied his well deserved retirement."