Head of police anti-terror squad to be replaced: Churchill-Coleman said to be upset by Yard leak of decision to appoint new commander in fight against IRA

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The Independent Online
COMMANDER George Churchill-Coleman, head of the Anti- Terrorist Branch at Scotland Yard for more than seven years, is to be replaced, the Metropolitan Police confirmed yesterday.

Although Mr Churchill-Coleman is known to have been ready to leave a post he has occupied for longer than any of his predecessors, he is said to be unhappy that the announcement was precipitated because of a Scotland Yard leak to the Sunday Express which reported that he had been 'axed'.

He will be replaced by Commander David Tucker, 43, head of SO11, the Yard's criminal intelligence gathering arm.

Mr Churchill-Coleman, 53, the Yard's most senior Commander, has borne the brunt of criticism for the failure over four years to stem the IRA's latest mainland campaign. The campaign has included the killing of 11 Royal Marine bandsmen in Deal, the murder of Conservative MP Ian Gow, the mortar attack on Downing Street and the huge City of London bomb this year.

The criticism has, however, often been based on a misunderstanding of Mr Churchill-Coleman's limited role as head of the section charged with post-incident investigation, which was perhaps more accurately titled when it was known as the bomb squad.

The section is only one part of an anti-terrorist apparatus that includes Special Branch and the security service - which has recently taken over the IRA intelligence gathering role from the former - the RUC, and military intelligence.

However, despite an often stiff demeanour which did not adapt well to the public spotlight, Scotland Yard and the Home Office have been content to leave Mr Churchill-Coleman, a solid career detective rather than a 'security chief', to face the cameras.

The retiring commander is respected by his colleagues and admired as a disciplined officer who has drilled the branch into a rapid response evidence-gathering unit.

Its successes have, however, been limited - sometimes due to the resistance of provincial police forces to their Metropolitan colleagues. To combat this, two years ago, Mr Churchill-Coleman was given the title of 'National Coordinator' to give him more authority over investigations outside London.

Although there have been some convictions and several people are awaiting trial, the branch has not captured the two men behind the Clapham bomb factory, and the arrest of Pearse McCauley and Nessan Quinlivan was negated by their escape from Brixton jail. Several suspects brought to court have been acquitted.

The appointment of Mr Tucker, an intelligence specialist, may suggest a switch in emphasis tied in with the appointment of MI5 over Special Branch, to make the work of the anti-terrorist officers more intelligence-oriented.

In a statement, Scotland Yard paid tribute to Mr Churchill-Coleman, who it said had held 'one of the most demanding jobs in the Metropolitan Police with great distinction and success for more than seven years'. It added that he would be posted to 'other duties', and denied suggestions that the branch required rebuilding following departures due to low morale.

It is known that Mr Churchill- Coleman had been anxious for some time for a less demanding role, in particular so that he could spend more time with his second wife, whom he married last year. But it was recognised that if his departure came close to any of the IRA's recent attacks it would be interpreted as a victory for the terrorists, and it is significant that the decision to move him has come during a relatively quiet period.

The Yard said no date had been fixed for Mr Tucker to take over. It would take place as part of a series of moves at commander level.

(Photograph omitted)

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