Gay police chief faces showdown with boss at Met

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The Independent Online

When Commander Brian Paddick, Britain's highest-ranking openly gay police officer, returns from holiday next week, his first task will be a trip to Scotland Yard's headquarters to save his career.

But for Mr Paddick, the fight to rescue his reputation begins today. It follows controversial comments in an internet chatroom, publicly attributed to him, about anarchism, homosexuality and drugs. After they appeared Mr Paddick, in charge of police in Lambeth, south London, was rebuked by the Home Secretary and dubbed "The Crackpot Commander" by the tabloids. The Sun called on him to resign his £93,000-a-year post.

"He has been misrepresented," commented his staff officer, Inspector Noel Craggs. "He is the victim of another smear. It is very unfair. They [his opponents] knew he was going to be on holiday and unable to defend himself."

Mr Paddick only went on the internet site, it now emerges, to rebut damaging comments made by a net surfer masquerading as a Brixton policeman under the user-name Colin the Copper. Mr Craggs said that the true identity of the surfer is subject to a police investigation.

Mr Paddick will return to work on 12 March to receive a dressing-down from his immediate superior, Assistant Commissioner Mike Todd. The Metropolitan Police hierarchy has hardly rushed to his defence so far. It issued a statement saying: "We have been in touch with Commander Brian Paddick to inform him of the current media interest and we have told him we will be talking to him when he returns from his well-deserved holiday."

The smears against Mr Paddick began last year when he was first put in charge of Lambeth and followed his decision to, in effect, decriminalise cannabis by making possession of the drug a non-arrestable offence. The move has been hailed a success although there were signs yesterday that the Met is planning to water them down by issuing on-the-spot fines for possession rather than issuing simple warnings. In six months, the Lambeth scheme saved 2,500 man-hours and £4m in court costs, while arrests for possession of harder drugs rose by 19 per cent.

As first reported in The Independent on Sunday, Mr Paddick's time in charge has been undermined by a combination of professional jealousy and homophobia. He was falsely accused of corruption, and his partner was accused of working for the secret service, which allegedly compromised his position. His ex-wife has been tracked by journalists, after anonymous calls to newspapers.

The latest attack on Mr Paddick's position follows comments on the alternative website www.urban75.com. Mr Craggs said he felt partly to blame for Mr Paddick's involvement on the website because he had first brought Colin the Copper's comments to his attention.

Colin the Copper writes on the website: "The community get the police they deserves ... and maybe Lambeth residents deserve someone who is only interested in promoting his career while street crime goes through the roof. Never mind his policies on cannabis and gays, what the fuck is he doing about all the gangs of robbers ...? I tell you he's doing nothing, in fact he's made the dedicated robbery squad smaller."

Mr Craggs said he had been flooded with supportive emails since the story first broke in the Big Issue magazine. "Ninety-nine per cent are positive and the odd one or two per cent attack his homosexuality," said Mr Craggs. "People are going on what the initial reports in The Sun said and they need to look into what he has done and why he has gone on to the internet in the first place."

Headlines have ranged from "How can police chief want anarchy in the UK?" to "Stalker targets top gay cop in anarchy storm". According to the News of the World, Mr Paddick's "favourite gay haunt ... is a haven of cocaine use".

Mr Craggs says the commander's comments have been taken out of context. Using the screen name Brian: the Commander, he wrote: "The concept of anarchism has always appealed to me. The idea of innate goodness of the individual that is corrupted by society or the system. It is a theoretical argument but I am not sure everyone would behave well if there were no laws and no system."

David Blunkett has been infuriated by the comments. "I expect John Stevens [the Met Commissioner] will be having a word with him. I am personally deeply committed against anarchy of any sort that threatens order and discipline."