Brian Paddick: Britain's most controversial police chief

He went soft on drugs in Brixton, spoke out about the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, and had his private life raked over in the press. Now, after 30 years of service, Brian Paddick's been hounded out of his job. But were his radical policies to blame? Or was Scotland Yard simply not ready for a liberal, gay, Oxford graduate so high in its ranks? Jason Bennetto reports

The statement issued by Scotland Yard yesterday morning was characteristically anodyne, yet explosive in its implications. "The commissioner has decided, for organisational reasons, to appoint DAC Brian Paddick to the Directorate of Information in order to work on the management of police information systems."

For seasoned Paddick-watchers - and there are many - the announcement signalled the final, unhappy chapter in the career of Britain's most controversial police officer. At the same time, for seasoned Yard-watchers - and there are many - it marked a dramatic raising of the stakes in the extraordinary faction feud raging within Britain's biggest police force.

Paddick, the country's most senior gay policeman, is now, in effect, on gardening leave (with a £120,000 salary) until he decides to either retire or resign.

The decision to give the 47-year-old deputy assistant commissioner a desk job represents the latest move by Sir Blair, the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police - a man well accustomed to being described as "beleaguered" - to stamp his authority on the Met by weeding out the high-level dissenters and perceived troublemakers who cause him so many unwelcome headlines.

But the sidelining of the man behind the famous "softly-softly" cannabis experiment in Brixton, south London, comes after months of unprecedented fear and loathing within Scotland Yard.

At the centre of the row is the question of trust and honesty. Sir Ian has come to believe that one of his most senior officers cannot be trusted, that he leaks information to the press, and that ill-informed comments by the deputy assistant commissioner could bring down his kingship.

Paddick, meanwhile, insists that he is merely being truthful and transparent. He claims the culture within the police service remains one of covering up mistakes, rather than exposing them - and that his honesty and openness about his sexuality led to a homophobic backlash among some of his senior colleagues, that has blighted his career and his prospects.

While his detractors claim he is naïve, a publicity seeker who is out for glory and not a team player, Paddick says that his approach has always been to apply maximum candour - particularly when confronting controversial subjects, such as youth crime and drugs.

His rise through the police ranks reflects the growing pains of a conservative and institutionalised organisation, which over the past two decades has had to come to terms with the issues of sexuality and diversity, as well as the emergence of the "celebrity" police officer.

The son of a plastics salesman and a building society secretary, Paddick grew up in south London. During his adolescence he was tormented by his homosexuality and bullied by other children who realised he was gay. He joined the Met in 1976, at the age of 18.

He had two failed engagements before getting married, which he says he did to cover up his sexuality. He told one interviewer: "I broke off the relationship because it wasn't working and came home very upset. Mum said, 'Oh, what's the matter?' And I rather dramatically placed the engagement ring on the coffee table. And mum said, 'Thank God for that; I thought you were going to tell me you were queer."'

Paddick took a break from policing to study politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford. He has a criminology diploma from Cambridge University and even his critics concede that he is bright.

As he rose through the ranks he finally came out as homosexual. He remains convinced that the decision made him a target for homophobia.

A friend said yesterday: "One backlash was that whenever Brian got into trouble people would not rush to defend him - rather they would rush to put fuel on the fire. Even now he believes there are senior officers who do not want to play golf or associate with him partly because he is gay."

On the day he was promoted to commander in November 2000, an anonymous note was sent to his bosses claiming he had misused a police vehicle.

On another occasion, someone rang a telephone hotline with a false tip-off that Paddick had warned a London gay bar at which he was a regular customer, that it was about to be raided for drugs.

But it was not until July 2001, when he was borough commander of the south London district of Lambeth that he became a figure of national interest.

His bold, controversial and ground-breaking pilot scheme in Brixton, under which anyone caught with a small amount of cannabis was released without charge, ensured that the media took a close interest in his activities. Offenders were merely released with a warning and their drugs confiscated. The declared aim of the scheme was to allow police officers more time to target heroin and crack cocaine users and dealers, rather than spending hours processing people arrested for possession of recreational drugs.

The scheme was immediately seized upon by the right-wing press, and the Oxford University graduate rapidly found his personal life and career under the microscope.

Then, as part of his attempt to engage the local community, he logged on to a radical website, Urban75.com, under the tag name of "Brian: The Commander" to take part in a debate on policing. His comments about finding anarchist philosophy attractive angered the Met's top brass and led right-wing commentators to brand him "Commander Crackpot".

Worse was to come. The allegations that led to Paddick's ousting from Lambeth came, with some inevitability, in The Mail on Sunday, which published revelations from James Renolleau, one of Paddick's old boyfriends, after paying him £100,000 for his story.

Renolleau claimed that Paddick had allowed him to smoke cannabis at the couple's Westminster flat and had flouted Met rules by not telling his bosses that Renolleau was on bail facing criminal charges.

Paddick admitted the newspaper's claims, but he issued vehement denials about the allegations that he himself had smoked cannabis.

Yet to his fury, he was moved from Lambeth to a desk job in March 2002 while a criminal investigation was undertaken.

Cleared of criminal wrongdoing in October 2002, and a disciplinary inquiry by the Metropolitan Police Authority, which ruled there was no evidence to substantiate the cannabis allegations, he successfully sued The Mail on Sunday, winning substantial damages and an apology. He claimed libel and breach of confidence after the newspaper published details about his private life. Asked at the time whether he shared the opinion that he had been "hung out to dry", he replied: "That's the feeling I got too."

He told another interviewer: "It's elements of the media that are ultra conservative and take grave exception to police officers using that sort of language - suggesting radically different approaches - and find the idea of an openly gay man in any position of authority abhorrent, not the police service."

In rebuilding his career he found allies, including Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London. Livingstone's race adviser, Lee Jasper, has described Paddick's honesty and transparency as weaknesses. "He's a strongly extrovert character and that can often lead him to speaking without thinking and that can get him into trouble."

Paddick's legacy was that Brixton's liberal approach to cannabis possession was adopted nationally in January 2004 when David Blunkett, then Home Secretary, downgraded the drug from class B to class C. Police ceased to treat possession of cannabis as an arrestable offence in most situations.

But the backlash to this approach has been growing among senior police officers and MPs, who complain that the switch has sent mixed messages about drugs to the young. Large numbers of cannabis dealers have also been targeting Brixton, which has seen a return to more traditional policing methods.

In January 2004 Paddick was promoted to deputy assistant commissioner and given the job of running territorial policing, a position that is responsible for the riot squad, burglary, street crime and sexual offences. But he quickly complained in a newspaper interview that the role was "a bit of a non-job" and that he was "bored and frustrated".

His career appeared to be in the ascendancy again in June last year, when he was put in charge of the high-profile review of the handling of rape allegations. The following month, he fronted the first few press conferences in the aftermath of the 7 July suicide bombings.

But it was the shooting dead of a Brazilian man at Stockwell Tube station in south London on 22 July last year that would prove to be the catalyst for a fresh round of controversy and in-fighting, which in turn has brought around Paddick's latest travails, and could yet topple Sir Ian Blair as commissioner.

Jean Charles de Menezes, an electrician, was shot seven times in the head by anti-terrorist officers after being mistaken for a suicide bomber, on the day after the attempted 21 July bomb attacks in London.

At 3.30pm on 22 July, five hours after the shooting, Sir Ian made an appeal over four photographs of suspected failed bombers and announced that the shooting of De Menezes was directly linked to anti-terrorist operations.

Sir Ian has been accused by the dead man's family of knowing that de Menezes was innocent when he made that statement. A month after the shooting, Sir Ian said: "At that time - and for the next 24 hours - I and everybody who advised me believed the person who was shot was a suicide bomber."

In response to a series of complaints, two inquiries were launched by the Independent Police Complaints Commission into the shooting and its aftermath.

The first report, known as Stockwell One, looks at the shooting and considers whether any criminal offences have been committed by the police. The second, Stockwell Two, is examining whether Sir Ian mislead the public.

The commissioner's career is riding on the outcome of these reports. If Stockwell Two, which is due to be published later this year, concludes that he lied, he will almost certainly lose his job.

With so much riding on the inquiry, shockwaves reverberated through the upper echelons of Scotland Yard at the disclosure in March that Paddick gave investigators from the IPCC a signed statement that appeared to contradict Sir Ian's account of the aftermath of the shooting.

Paddick testified that Chief Superintendent Moir Stewart, a key member of Blair's private office, had been told just six hours after the shooting that the police might have killed an innocent man.

Sir Ian has maintained that the first he and - crucially - his advisers knew of the error, was 24 hours after the shooting.

Paddick's damaging claim was leaked to the BBC in March, in a week when Sir Ian was already under severe pressure.

He had just been forced to apologise to Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, after it emerged that he had secretly taped a telephone conversation with him.

At first, it was believed Paddick himself had leaked the story to the BBC. But the commissioner now believes another senior officer was responsible.

Paddick's version was initially dismissed by the Met as "simply not true". Paddick regarded this as tantamount to calling him a liar and consulted his lawyers. When he threatened to take legal action, the force issued a public apology. However, the damage was done and the atmosphere of bitterness appears to have intensified.

But the final straw came last week, in a fresh row over a leaked newspaper report. Sir Ian decided to act after remarks he had made to senior officers last Friday were leaked.

The controversy began on Thursday when Sir Ian was reporting to a meeting of his force's watchdog, the Metropolitan Police Authority, on the controversial pre-dawn operation to remove anti-war protester Brian Haw's placards from Parliament Square, outside the House of Commons. Sir Ian told the authority that the task involved a 78 officers and cost £7,200.

But at a meeting of his senior management team the following day, the matter was discussed, and Sir Ian accepted that he misled authority members about the cost. When details of these remarks were passed to the media, the Met chief was forced to send an e-mail to authority members saying the total figure, including officers' salaries, was in fact four times higher at £27,754.

In his e-mail, he denied any intention to mislead the authority, and expressed disappointment that private remarks had been leaked to journalists and indicated he would launch an inquiry to establish who was to blame.

Paddick was among several high-ranking Met officers and officials who attended the Friday meeting.

It is understood that Sir Ian confronted Paddick and said that he believed he was responsible for the leaks. Despite Paddick strongly denying the charge, the commissioner apparently did not believe him.

The outcome of this latest row appears to be Paddick's new post. The low-profile job involves working on the Impact programme, one of the key recommendations of the Bichard Inquiry into the intelligence failings involved in the murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in Soham, Cambridgeshire.

But what will become of the man dubbed "Britain's most controversial cop" and his boss?

Senior figures at the Met believe the future of the Sir Ian Blair is precarious at the moment.

Sir Ian has vowed to fight his corner, but one senior officer recently stated that he believed the commissioner had only a 20 per cent chance of keeping his job until Christmas.

The crunch point for Sir Ian will be the publication of the Stockwell reports. Early leaks suggest that no one is to be prosecuted for the shooting and that Sir Ian will be cleared of lying.

But the report is understood to criticise the head of the Met for not being better informed and questions whether some officers either knew or suspected they had shot dead an innocent person in the hours immediately after the incident.

Paddick, who was unavailable for comment yesterday, is understood to be staying put for the time being, but has been exploring a change in career.

A friend of the senior officer said: "He believes that he was naïve in terms of not recognising earlier that he was running up against a culture that still believes it is best to cover up things when they go wrong, rather than being open and transparent. I think he will stick it out for the time being."

On 27 November this year Paddick will have been in the police service for 30 years and will be entitled to retire on a full pension. This may be the moment he jumps jobs.

Friends say he is interested in becoming a working peer, and has informal links with the Liberal Democrats, and the Conservatives.

But Paddick's "nuclear option", which must strike dread into the hearts of many of his colleagues at Scotland Yard, is that he will decide to write a book about his life in and out of the force - or possibly even opt for a stint as a newspaper columnist.

Good cop, bad cop? Paddick's controversial life

Brian Paddick was born in 1958 in south London. He obtained a degree from Oxford in politics, philosophy and economics. He also has a diploma in applied criminology and police studies from Cambridge. He was married to Mary Stone in 1983. They divorced in 1988.

1976 Joins the Metropolitan Police

1980 Becomes a sergeant at Brixton aged 22; on the front line during the Brixton riots in 1981.

Promoted to CID manager at Notting Hill, organising policing of riots.

1998 Made chief superintendent in the borough of Merton.

2001-2002 Borough commander of Lambeth. Pioneers a 'soft' approach to cannabis use in the borough. David Blunkett, while Home Secretary, credits Paddick's liberal policing methods as the inspiration for downgrading cannabis from a class B to class C drug.

2002 Sidelined to an office job while inquiries are held into allegations of cannabis use. He is cleared.

January 2004 Promoted to deputy assistant commissioner of the Met.

July 2004 Fronts briefings on 7 July in the immediate wake of the London bombings and meets with Stockwell community leaders after the killing with Jean Charles de Menezes on 22 July.

June 2005 Launches inquiry into rape allegations across London as the head of Operation Sapphire, the Met Police's sexual offences team, and concludes that there must be a change in attitude among the public as well as among senior members of the criminal justice team.

March 2006 It is revealed that Mr Paddick had testified to IPCC inquiry into the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, reportedly telling the inquiry that senior officers were aware that the 'wrong man' had been killed within hours of the shooting.

Wednesday 31 May Shifted from his role in charge of Territorial Policing to a 'less visible' role setting up a new information system, a move instigated by Sir Ian Blair.

Comments