Four candidates apply for the 'toughest job in policing'

A sign of how the job is regarded has seen leading candidates - including one admired by the PM - withdraw

Click to follow
The Independent Online

It is often described as the most difficult job in policing. As the two previous holders of the post would testify, it is not the policing that is the difficult part, but the politics.

Applications closed yesterday for the role of Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police – after an extension to take into account the rioting around the country last week. The four candidates are the Strathclyde chief constable, Stephen House; Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Metropolitan Police's current acting deputy commissioner; Sir Hugh Orde, the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers – who came second last time the post was vacant, and who applied this time in the final hours before the deadline; and the current Acting Commissioner, Tim Godwin.

But in a sign of how the job is now viewed among senior officers, a number of leading candidates have chosen not to apply.

They include Sara Thornton, the Chief Constable of Thames Valley, who is admired by David Cameron and would have been a frontrunner – especially given the desire of Mayor Boris Johnson and others in government to appoint a woman to succeed Sir Paul Stephenson.

Also not applying is Chris Sims, the Chief Constable of West Midlands, Peter Fahy of Greater Manchester Police and Andy Trotter, the head of British Transport Police.

All might have reasonably been expected to put themselves forward for a job with a knighthood on appointment and a salary of £260,000.

But their reluctance may in part be because of the experiences of the previous two incumbents, Sir Paul and Sir Ian Blair. They were forced out ignominiously because of politics rather than policing, and endured huge amounts of unwelcome media attention in the run-up.

Officially the commissioner is appointed by the Queen on the recommendation of the Home Secretary, who consults on the appointment with the Mayor. In practice, Theresa May and Mr Johnson are likely to conduct the interviews together.

The commissioner reports to the Metropolitan Police Authority and the Mayor, but also reports to the Home Secretary on terrorism and other matters of national significance.

As recent years have shown, it is difficult balancing act to pull off. Sir Ian was perceived to be too close to Labour and was effectively forced out of his job by Mr Johnson.

Sir Paul was liked – but when he became embroiled in the hacking scandal it was easier for politicians (themselves under fire) to let him resign than stand by him in the face of a hostile media.

So whoever the successful candidate is will need the skills of not only office politics but national politics as well. Not to mention the small matter of budget cuts.

The contenders...

Bernard Hogan-Howe The straight-talking and well liked former Chief Constable of Merseyside Police became acting deputy commissioner when Sir Paul Stephenson resigned, giving rise to speculation that he is the Government's preferred candidate. He has supervised the Serious Organised Crime Agency and the policing of the Olympic Games – good qualifications for the job.

Stephen House The Glaswegian's prospects improved when David Cameron said last week he wanted to draw on expertise from Strathclyde Police's task force on gangs. He has served with Brighton, West Yorkshire and Staffordshire police forces, and in six years with the Met was head of the specialist crime command, a post later taken by the outgoing deputy, John Yates.

Sir Hugh Orde The president of the Association of Chief Police Officers may have talked himself out of the job with his caustic comments about politicians and the riots, but his plain speaking would make him a popular choice with Met officers. He narrowly missed out in 2008 and was "undecided" about whether to try again. He has experience of riots from his time as head of the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

Tim Godwin The acting commissioner has climbed steadily through the ranks by avoiding controversy, but yesterday startled MPs by revealing he had considered shutting down Twitter during the riots. He also faced criticism from some for his low profile during the riots, and has since upped his public appearances. If he is not made Commissioner, he may be put in charge of the National Crime Agency.

Riots in brief...

Facebook families 'shocked' by jail terms

The mother one of two men jailed for four years for encouraging rioting on Facebook is "shocked and upset" at the sentence, her solicitor said last night.

A statement issued on behalf of the family of Jordan Blackshaw also underlined that nothing had happened as a result of his postings, which he regarded as "a joke". Blackshaw, 20, from Marston near Northwich, is to appeal against what has been one of the toughest punishments handed down since the disturbances.

Blackshaw's solicitor Chris Johnson said: "Jordan originally set up the Facebook site for a joke, which he accepts was in bad taste and inappropriate, and he is remorseful. We are not aware of any persons actually attending the proposed event. TWe believe that Northwich remained peaceful that day." Facebook refused to comment on the case.

Protest at home of eviction councillor

Hundreds of protesters will gather outside the house of the first council leader to order the eviction of a tenant over alleged rioting today, to demand that he reverses the policy.

Organisers of the demonstratration described the draconian move by Wandsworth Borough Council's Ravi Govindia as "ludicrous". Peter McCann, of the Social Justice Collective, set up a Facebook group calling for people to join his protest after hearing of the council's application to evict the mother of an alleged rioter. More than 600 people have now said they will attend. "We will be taking along placards, it will be a peaceful protest. We have one simple demand: withdraw the stupid eviction letters," Mr McCann said. "What we need from Cllr Govindia is leadership, not vote-chasing popularism. We are planning to come back and stop the council officials if they try to go ahead with an eviction. We will hold a street party and block off the road. We will stop with our bodies, if necessary." Mr Govindia was not available for comment.

Doughnut looter had just been released

A man looted a Krispy Kreme doughnut shop hours after being released from jail, a court heard. Thomas Downey, 48, was caught red-handed with a box of doughnuts by 20 riot police during last week's disturbances in Manchester, the city's crown court was told. Downey, of no fixed address, had been released from Strangeways at 7pm that Tuesday and travelled straight to the town centre for an Alcoholics' Anonymous meeting. But by 1.30am, the court heard, he was drunk after consuming a bottle of sherry and stumbled into the Krispy Kreme outlet in Piccadilly Gardens, which was unsecured after being attacked by a mob. Downey was found "helping himself to cola and biscuits" and ordered out of the shop by an employee. Police then arrived to find a "totally pissed" Downey had gone back in and was carrying a box of doughnuts. He was remanded in custody for sentencing today.

Fear will not stop Notting Hill Carnival

The Notting Hill Carnival will go ahead, organisers say, but will finish early amid concerns that gangs will hijack celebrations and bring a repeat of last week's violence.

Olympic ambassador on remand

A former youth Olympic ambassador accused of being involved in the riots in London has been remanded in custody. Chelsea Ives, 18, left, who was reported to police by her mother, will appear again at Highbury Corner Magistrates' Court on 7 September when the case will be committed to the crown court.

Ken Bates's plan to mend Broken Britain

The chairman of Leeds United Football Club, Ken Bates used the club's match day programme on Tuesday to propose his solution to society's ills. "Let us leave the EEC, abolish the Human Rights Laws, take the TV sets, [and] pool tables out of prisons," he wrote. "Bring back both corporal and capital punishment, slash benefits and put single-mothers into hostels instead of giving them council flats. Finally if we chucked out all the illegal immigrants and asylum seekers there would be enough jobs for everybody."