Met police chief to stand down next year

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The Independent Online

Sir John Stevens will announce today that he is retiring as head of the Metropolitan Police next year, starting a race to become Britain's top policeman.

Sir John Stevens will announce today that he is retiring as head of the Metropolitan Police next year, starting a race to become Britain's top policeman.

The Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police will tell his police authority that he will not seek an extension of his five-year contract when it expires on 31 January. But Sir John, 61, is to continue his inquiry into the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, and his 14-year investigation into alleged collusion between security forces and terrorists in Northern Ireland. His deputy, Sir Ian Blair, is the officer most widely tipped to succeed him as commissioner - the most senior and pressured post in policing. Among those thought to be considering applying for the £175,000-a-year position are the country's most senior Asian officer and chief constables who previously worked under Sir John.

The new appointment is crucial in political terms as the commissioner is influential on Home Office funding and policy. Sir John, with a combination of charm, toughness, shrewd political nous and luck, has built good relations with ministers and got good results. But his replacement is likely to be more of a politician than a "copper" in the mould of Sir John.

Sir Ian, his Oxford University-educated deputy, is seen as the leading contender, with his fierce intellect and well-established relations with the Home Office. He has been largely responsible for driving through the introduction of community support officers, a cheap method of providing extra street policing.

Sir Ian, 50, applied for the commissioner's job five years ago while chief constable of Surrey, but had to settle for the number two slot. The commissioner is chosen by the Home Secretary from a short-list drawn up by the Metropolitan Police Authority.

The strong standing of Sir Ian could frighten off other candidates, who are fearful of alienating their police authorities by applying for the job and failing to get it. Among those thought to be in the running are Hugh Orde, 45, the head of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, who has greatly impressed many observers since his surprise appointment from the Met.

Tarique Ghaffur, 49, assistant commissioner in charge of specialist operations across London, is also in the running and his appointment would be seen as a positive message to the Asian community.

Mike Todd, 46, who moved from the Met to take over at Greater Manchester, has quickly established a good reputation for reform, although he may not want to leave his post so soon.

Peter Neyroud, 44, the chief constable at Thames Valley, is considered a commissioner in waiting. Sir Ronnie Flanagan, 55, Inspector of Constabulary covering London, has worked with the security services and is also seen as a possibility.

Sir John will leave the Met in better shape than when he inherited it from Sir Paul Condon, although he oversaw disputes with senior ethnic minority officers and the failure to jail the killers of Damilola Taylor.