Thursday, 2 October 2008

Boris sacks Britain's top copper

Sir Ian Blair Profile

Brought low by a personal scandal and his political enemies, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair has been under pressure from the media, from inside his own force and across the political divide since he took office.

In his resignation statement Sir Ian made it clear he blamed the Conservative mayor of London, Boris Johnson, who is now chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority, for effectively sacking him when the two had a private meeting on Tuesday.

Boris Johnson’s antipathy towards Sir Ian, combined with fresh media allegations of corruption and continuing racism row in the upper echelons of the force, seem to have finally done for Britain’s top policeman.

Life has never been quiet on Sir Ian’s beat. His three and a half years at the helm of the Met has been a trial of strength and fire. It was Sir Ian who fronted the cameras with a reassuring face of police order when mass terrorism hit London in July 2005, just months after he came into post. Over 50 commuters were killed on tube trains and a bus in the first attack on 7th July and in the heightened tension following the second failed attack on the 21st police firearms officers shot dead Jean Charles de Menezes in Stockwell tube station, believing the innocent Brazilian to be one of their suspects.

The De Menezes shooting - as traumatic counter-punch to the bombings themselves - was the most serious threat to Sir Ian’s career. The ongoing inquest hangs over him like the sword of Damocles and such is the symbolic importance of the shooting dead of an innocent man that there were suggestions last night that Sir Ian might be staying on until December just to deal with the outcome of the case.

The Metropolitan Police was found guilty of breaching health and safety laws over the Brazilian’s death but no individual officer has faced charges over the killing at Stockwell Underground station. Sir Ian himself was cleared of wrongdoing over claims that he misled the public about what the police knew on the day.

Blair by name and by nature Sir Ian was seen as a very “politically correct copper” who had a close relationship with the former Prime Minister and his namesake when he was appointed. But there was the scent of trouble from the off. The cerebral Sir Ian took over command of the biggest police force in Britain from Sir John Stevens, a rumbustious “copper’s copper” and a favourite with the capital’s 31,000 police officers. So, this softly spoken Oxford English literature graduate was never going to be popular in the canteen.

Many rank and file Met officers will be glad to see the back of Sir Ian. He guessed himself that 10 per cent of the Met police officers were against him and he knew that the newspapers, with the Daily Mail and London’s Evening Standard leading the pack, were out to get him from the off.
But with Tony Blair in office and the strong support of mayor Ken Livingstone, a politician who shared with Sir Ian’s passion for communication with the public, Sir Ian clung to office through a series of catastrophes.

The suggestion that he used public money to pay for advice on how he should conduct himself as commissioner when he took the post seems to have been the last straw in a trail of scandals that have dogged him since he took office. A £15,000 contract to the company of a close friend, Andy Miller, is one of £3m of business being investigated by a team of officers led by Sir Ronnie Flannigan, HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary,

Boris Johnson, the new chairman of the Metropolitan Police Authority, was no great fan and he removed the scaffold from under him at the first opportunity. The major has no statutory right to remove the Commissioner from his post but Mr Johnson, proving himself as the most powerful Tory in Britain, has flexed his muscle, leaving Jacqui Smith looking weakened on the bed of nails that his the Home Office just as a cabinet reshuffle is in the offing.

Remember Sir Ian is in charge of counter-terrorism not just in London but across Britain where security services are tracking 2000 terrorist suspects and up to 30 active plots to repeat scenes like those that confronted us on 7/7. Boris Johnson - acting freelance or with Mr Cameron's say so? - has effectively put himself in charge of counter-terrorism policy.

Sir Ian has had his Mark Twain moments before - twice actually - when he claimed that rumours of his death had been greatly exaggerated. Last night the chapter of his life marked Metropolitan Commissioner came to an end.

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