To adapt the words of Bobby Jones, the great American golfer, "You might as well honour a man for not robbing a bank as honour him for doing his job." (Jones objected to being praised for "playing by the rules" when he called a penalty on himself.) The appointment of Andy Hayman, the head of counter-terrorism at the Metropolitan Police, as commander of the order of the British Empire (CBE) in the Queen's Birthday Honours hardly brings the honours system into further disrepute. That system has already sunk so low in the morass of justified public cynicism that all Mr Hayman's award can do is keep it there.
The problem is not simply that Mr Hayman appears to have been honoured for doing his job, but that he has been decorated at a time when his competence in that job is in question. The slow-turning wheels of the bureaucracy of protocol seem to have allocated an honour to Mr Hayman even before the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes nearly a year ago, and certainly long before the Forest Gate raid, for which he was also responsible.
The honours system had already been devalued by the longstanding and increasingly indefensible correlation between honours and political donations. The notion that some knighthoods have been purchased, in effect, by donations to parties or the sponsorship of city academies has devalued the award of titles to others whose exceptional public service ought to be recognised in some way. More importantly, the attempted nomination for life peerages of the providers of secret loans to the Labour and Conservative parties - first reported by this newspaper - has poisoned the well of integrity on which the system depends.
The point was reached some time ago when the honours system needed to be torn down and rebuilt from scratch. The tinkering at the edges with "people's honours" and improvised reforms of the House of Lords have failed to restore confidence, while the welter of orders that refer to an empire that no longer exists does nothing to restore relevance. It is important that a society finds a way to honour exceptional contributions to the common wealth, not least among the armed forces and others who put their lives at risk in our defence. A mis-timed honour for a desk-based senior police officer, whose role in two bungled operations involving the shooting of innocent civilians is still under investigation, is absolutely the wrong place to start.