MPs 'force retreat over policing of London'

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The Independent Online
THE HOME SECRETARY is believed to have abandoned plans for an independent police authority for London.

For the first time since Scotland Yard's foundation in 1829, Kenneth Clarke had been proposing to hand over responsibility for the country's largest force to a new 16-strong authority as part of nation-wide plans for a police shake-up. But it is thought that rather than risk a Tory backbench revolt, Mr Clarke has decided to maintain his ultimate responsibility for the Metropolitan Police.

Even though the plans to bring the Yard into line with the 51 other British forces had the support of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, they ran into immediate and vociferous opposition from the capital's Conservative MPs. In private meetings with Mr Clarke they said they feared town hall involvement in the Yard's national or specialist policing functions, such as the royal and diplomatic protection squads and the anti-terrorist branch.

Mr Clarke is now said to be considering introducing a panel, with strong business and management expertise, to advise him and act as a check on the Metropolitan force's performance.

Although a Home Office spokeswoman dismissed the reports as 'speculation', government sources suggested the White Paper on the future of policing due this summer would not include a London police authority, as originally announced.

Yesterday Joan Ruddock, Labour's home affairs spokeswoman, tabled an early day motion condemning the move.

The motion said it considered any decision to exclude local councillors on account of 'backbench Tory prejudice, would be a gross insult to Londoners; flying in the face of local accountability and democracy at a time when morale at the Met is at an all-time low and public concern about crime at an all- time high . . .'

Derek Sawyer, spokesman on policing for the Association of London Authorities, said: 'If these reports are true, he (Mr Clarke) is going back to square one and claiming a monopoly of wisdom for himself over Londoners in policing London.'