Three times a week at 9am sharp, a group of eight men and two women troop into room 806 of New Scotland Yard.
Sat around the table in a boardroom that would grace a medium-sized engineering company, the 10 members of Metropolitan Police's management board are privy to some of the most sensitive information in the country.
But when they meet today, it won't be the safety of Londoners at the forefront of their minds.
It will be the debilitating feud between two of their members that broke out yesterday into open warfare and threatens to bring a premature and ignominious end to both their careers.
Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur, the Uganda-born Asian who is Britain's most senior ethnic minority police officer, finally went public and announced his decision to sue Sir Ian Blair, the Met's Commissioner and Britain's most senior police officer, along with a number of his highly-placed colleagues in an employment tribunal for racism, in a case that threatens to tear the Yard's upper echelons apart.
Spectacularly, Mr Ghaffur, who as head of the Yard's central operations directorate is in charge of everything from gun crime to security of the 2012 Olympics – or he was – signalled his intention to continue performing all his duties, including attending management board meetings chaired by the man he accuses of ruining his career for base reasons of racial preference.
Ghaffur's claim also includes colleagues with whom he has daily contact, such as Deputy Assistant Commissioner Richard Bryan, a key figure in the Met's planning for the Olympic Games.
It is a bitter irony that Sir Ian, the officer whose egalitarian and liberal credentials led to him being demonised by his many right wing critics as "New Labour's favourite policeman" and "the PC PC", should be facing an enforced retirement over the allegation that he is leading a racist force and has surrounded himself with a gilded coterie of white, middle-aged lieutenants from which a talented Asian Muslim has been deliberately excluded.
They are claims robustly denied by Sir Ian, whose term of office should expire on 1 January 2010. But such is the enmity that has been allowed to grow and fester between the commissioner and Mr Ghaffur, who applied to be his deputy and was rejected, that senior figures on both sides of the polarised atmosphere at the Yard are beginning to ask whether the time has come to end Sir Ian's tenure.
One senior source told The Independent: "We have got a situation where the Met management board is riven between two men who have a burning sense of injustice against each other. Tarique feels he's been the target of a calculated campaign to deny him further promotion. The Commissioner is incandescent that a guy he agreed with on so much, in particular race, is now playing that race card on him.
"How on earth can an institution, let alone its most senior corporate decision-making body, function in those circumstances? As fully-functioning members of the MPS, you'd have to say they're both finished."
The unedifying spectacle of open warfare between two of Britain's leading law enforcers goes to the heart of the police force that Sir Ian, an Oxford graduate who is perhaps the most cerebral officer to have held the rank of commissioner, has built since he began his tenure in 2005.
Even his sternest critics admit that the intellectual detective, who became the first police officer to deliver the BBC's Dimbleby lecture in its 30-year history, faced an impossible task in trying to achieve the same popularity as his predecessor, Sir John Stevens, who was beloved of grassroots coppers and whose robust response to the aftermath of the murder of Stephen Lawrence helped restore the Met's rock-bottom morale.
Instead, he has presided over a series of rows, disagreements and policy clashes which have exposed the inability of the Met's commander-in-chief to meld battling egos into a unified team.
Shahrokh Mireskandari, the lawyer representing Mr Ghaffur, has said the claim will destroy "the Commissioner and his golden circle", while last month Commander Shabir Hussain, who brought a case for racial discrimination after being rejected four times for promotion to the rank of deputy assistant commissioner, claimed he had been overlooked in favour of Sir Ian's "favourite sons and daughters".
Such claims have been privately rubbished by senior Yard figures. But the series of fallings out on the "eighth floor" has exposed a tendency for corporate cohesion in the Blair Met to be overtaken by public exasperation.
Sir Ian is said by senior Scotland Yard staff to have difficult relationships with a number of his most senior colleagues, although he retains the support of key members of his team such as Assistant Commissioner John Yates, who was widely praised for his handling of the "cash for peerages" investigation.
Paul Stephenson, the Commissioner's Deputy and one of the favourites to succeed Sir Ian, fell out publicly with his boss in 2006 when he suggested that senior officers should exclude themselves from a £25,000 bonus at a time when the force was under investigation for the most serious crisis in the commissioner's term of office – the shooting of Jean Charles De Menezes.
Sir Ian complained to his deputy that he was being bounced into the decision by Mr Stephenson's pronouncement, which served only to inflame tensions between the Yard's most senior officers.
They have since both underlined their "very strong working relationship" but insiders say the sense of drift on the eighth floor has become difficult to ignore.
The MPS, which has a budget of £2.6bn and 31,300 serving officers, is divided into a series of crime "directorates", dealing with everything from terrorism to anti-corruption investigations, which in turn are equipped with their own infrastructure covering requirements such as surveillance teams and finance managers. The result, according to some critics, is a succession of competing fiefdoms that require strong direction from New Scotland Yard to work well together.
One source with knowledge of the inner workings of the Yard said: "It's not a matter of Sir Ian setting out to create some kind of policing oligarchy in his office. These are all professional and committed men who are very far from being head-nodding toadies. But when you're under attack, like he [Sir Ian] has been, there is an instinct to draw the wagons around you and listen to your most-trusted. That has created an atmosphere where some are afraid to get involved, others are too involved and others feel frozen out."
There is little better example of the revolving spheres of influence inside the Yard and its intermingling with politics than the experience of Brian Paddick, who as a deputy assistant commissioner and Britain's most senior openly gay police officer became one of Sir Ian's most high-profile officers.
He found himself at loggerheads with the Met when he suggested that a senior member of Sir Ian's staff had known within six hours that police killed an innocent man when Mr De Menezes was shot dead at Stockwell station on 22 July 2005. Sir Ian has always insisted he did not know the truth until the following day.
After resigning from the force last year, Mr Paddick has become one of Sir Ian's leading detractors. As Mr Paddick put it recently: "My opinion is that the Met would be better off without Sir Ian Blair. He's lost a lot of his authority through the gaffes he's made. If the Stockwell shooting had been handled differently, it would not have turned into the own goal it has turned out to be."
A litany of blunders has done little to help Sir Ian distance himself from accusations he is accident prone and too quick to endorse controversial policies such as ID cards and terror laws. He was forced to apologise after saying he found it difficult to understand the media furore about the Soham murders and again after admitting the Met had taped a call to the Attorney General.
The case brought by Mr Ghaffur is also far from being the first discrimination complaint by a leading ethnic minority officer against Sir Ian's Met. Commander Ali Dizaei, the president of the National Black Police Association, won a £60,000 award after a £4m anti-corruption investigation which involved surveillance of meetings between Mr Dizaei and Mr Ghaffur.
It may now all be getting too much. While Sir Ian still has the support of Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, Ken Livingstone's defeat to Boris Johnson has made his position far more vulnerable. The Mayor has made no secret of his desire to unseat Sir Ian and will push for his removal when he assumes chairmanship of the Metropolitan Police Authority in October. While he does not have the power to remove him, the damaging claims may persuade the Government to cast him adrift.
The Metropolitan Police branch of the Black Police Association claimed yesterday that morale among the force's ethnic minority officers is now lower than it was prior to the landmark Macpherson report in 1999, which accused the force of being institutionally racist.
Alfred John, the BPA branch chairman, told The Independent: "Everything the Met has done in terms of putting right so many years of failure to address the problems faced by minority officers has turned out to be window dressing."
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