Brian Paddick writes: What’s good for the Metropolitan Police is not good for politicians

The evening after the Metropolitan Police shot an innocent Brazilian at Stockwell I went and saw the then Deputy Commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson. I asked whether it was true that the Commissioner had barred the Independent Police Complaints Commission from their legal duty to investigate the death. He said it was. I told him I thought it was the most stupid decision I had ever heard of (I knew by then that we had made a terrible mistake). He smiled and said “It’s my job to support the Commissioner.” I was concerned from then on that Stephenson might be giving the incumbent, Sir Ian (now Lord) Blair, enough rope to hang himself with. Within two years Ian Blair resigned as Commissioner, having been forced out following a series of errors of judgement.

In the days following Sir Paul Stephenson’s appointment as Commissioner of London’s Metropolitan Police, Kit Malthouse, chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority, was reportedly going around telling people that they (the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson and himself) had got the man they wanted. They had turned down the fiercely independent and outspoken Sir Hugh Orde, who had demonstrated outstanding leadership, sure-footedness and political adeptness as Chief Constable of Northern Ireland, in favour of ‘a safe pair of hands’, also known as someone who was not going to give them any trouble – or so they thought.

Unfortunately, Sir Paul’s low-key, traditional British bobby “I don’t want any trouble” approach, did not wash in the ego-infested upper echelons of the UK’s biggest police force. The Metropolitan Police has four Assistant Commissioners and a Deputy, all of whom hold the equivalent rank of a Chief Constable, the officer in charge of other police Forces. They are powerful individuals, each with their own empire and reputations to defend, all fighting for their slice of the corporate resources cake and all with an eye on higher office. It takes a very strong individual to hold the ring. It is simply not good enough to take your senior colleagues’ word for it in this kind of environment, when mistakes or oversights within their own departments, if discovered, can have serious consequences for the Assistant Commissioners concerned. An aggressive, intrusive, challenging and sceptical approach has to be taken or you end-up having to take the fall yourself.

Sir Paul should have asked more probing questions about the Met’s phone hacking investigation. He should have refused to agree to the employment of former News of the Word Deputy Editor, Neil Wallis, as a consultant to the Met whilst his force was investigating the same paper. He certainly should not have been wining and dining senior executives from the News International during that investigation. To cap it all, in the same week that the Justice Minister Kenneth Clarke was distinguishing acceptable corporate hospitality from corruption, it was revealed that Stephenson had accepted hospitality that appeared to fall into Clarke’s unacceptable bracket.

The last Commissioner to hold office for the full term, Sir John (now Lord) Stephens, used an ‘iron fist’ approach towards his senior colleagues. It won him few friends around the Management Board table but history will show that his term was, in many ways, a success. Sir Ian Blair followed with the best of intentions to change the culture of the Met but he failed to take his senior colleagues with him. His attempts to persuade, and when they failed, to isolate and ostracise senior colleagues, also failed. Ian Blair’s lack of grip was most pointedly illustrated when one of his Assistant Commissioners, Andy Hayman (now a columnist for News International), told journalists within hours that he believed the police had shot the wrong man at Stockwell but, according to the official record, he did not tell the Commissioner until the following day. Questions were also raised about contracts awarded by the Met to a company where one of the directors was Blair’s skiing partner. In the end, it was the Mayor of London’s lack of confidence in Blair that was blamed for his resignation as Commissioner.

The dilemma for politicians is that the Met needs a very strong, independent-minded leader who will not take any nonsense from anyone, including his or her political masters. What I believe recent history shows, is that without such a tough leader at the helm, the Metropolitan Police will continue to drift onto the rocks.

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5 Comments

  • “I knew by then that we had made a terrible mistake”

    Was that the “terrible mistake” of letting a homicidal maniac loose in London with a machine gun full of dumdums (which were then used in a frenzied attack on an innocent man – no sane person fills someone’s head with bullets from point blank range) or the “terrible mistake” of trying to get away with a complete pack of lies about it afterwards (“he jumped the barrier,” “he was wearing a bulky coat” “he was an illegal immigrant and deserved it”)?

  • Brian Paddick 20th Jul '11 - 12:20am

    Chris, I can’t agree with your comments but I agree with the sentiment, which is why I resigned from the police over the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, so I could work with the Justice 4 Jean Charles Campaign. I gave evidence for the family at the inquest against the police. Jean Charles mother thanked me face-to-face afterwards for telling the truth – it was very moving.

    Geoffrey, by tough leader I mean someone who is prepared to ask difficult questions and who will not give in to illegitimate pressure, whether from journalists or politicians. The police must be politically independent and free from media pressure. They should seek to serve the needs of the public and be accountable to the law.

    I am a victim of phone hacking by News International and I have been the subject of a ‘kiss and tell’ story in a tabloid newspaper (over which I sued for breach of privacy and won). I know what it is like to be a victim, a victim who was let down by the police, who failed to investigate the allegations of phone hacking first time around and failed to tell victims like me that our phones may have been hacked. That is why, a year ago, I asked the courts for a judicial review of the first police investigation. The courts have agreed to examine whether the police failed in their legal duty to investigate the crimes of phone hacking and their legal duty to tell victims (so that we could have taken steps to protect our privacy) – we are waiting for a court date. I am now considering suing News International as well.

  • Paul McKeown 20th Jul '11 - 10:05am

    Brian,

    What do you you think of the appointment of Cressida Dick as to John Yates former role as Assistant Commissioner with responsibility for counter-terrorism? I think it is absurd, but would be interested to hear your better informed opinion.

  • Brian Paddick 20th Jul '11 - 2:04pm

    Paul. As far as the organisation is concerned, it is understandable. DIck did a good ‘damage limitation’ exercise over De Menezes in that the only sanction was a Health and Safety conviction for the Met as a whole. Outside the organisation, many will see the appointment as incredible. To appoint someone as head of counter-terrorism who was in charge of an anti-terror operation which led to an innocent person losing his life at the hands of the police seems to me to be yet another serious error of judgement by the Met. In that sense, it is also understandable – they seem to be making a habit of bad decisions!

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