Saturday, October 11, 2008

Boris accused of politicising policing

by Caroline Colebrook

LONDON Mayor Boris Johnson faced harsh criticism last week from the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith and from members of the Metropolitan Police Authority after he forced the resignation of Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair without consulting them. Blair during his term in office had been a controversial figure. He was facing possible censure from the outcome of the current inquest into the death of Jean Charles de Menezes, the young Brazilian electrician who was shot and killed by anti-terrorist police on a Tube train in 1975 after they mistook him for a terrorist suspect.
Blair was also facing charges of racist discrimination made against the Met by former assistant commissioner Tarique Ghaffur and an inquiry by HM chief inspector of constabulary into alleged corruption over £3 million of Met contracts awarded to a close friend of Blair.
In spite of all these controversies, Blair had the full backing of former London Mayor Ken Livingstone because of his efforts to challenge the traditional reactionary “canteen culture” of the Met; efforts that prompted strong opposition from some internal Met quarters. Some of the worst police officers in London will be glad to see him go.
Blair was forced to quit after a stormy showdown with Johnson last Wednesday – thought Johnson has no authority to dismiss the Met chief. Only a Home Secretary can do that and Jacqui Smith responded, saying: “There’s a process in place that the mayor chose not to respect”.
And she pointed out that the Met chief is not only involved in London policing but in anti-terrorist policing nationwide.
And Len Duvall of the Metropolitan Police Authority expressed anger that Johnson had acted before attending his first meeting as chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority.
Blair had told Johnson that he would stay in place until a replacement had been found but was told: “We don’t want a successor appointed. We will have an acting arrangement until a Conservative home secretary arrives.”
And later, in a letter to Jacqui Smith, Johnson said: “I would counsel caution in moving too quickly to recommending a prospective holder.” And he added that Smith should “consider whether a fairly lengthy consolidation period, under the acting command of Sir Paul Stephenson, might not be for the best.”
The clear implication is that Johnson regards the Commissioner of the Met as a political appointment. The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) warned Johnson not to seize political control over the Met. Acpo president Ken Jones said that Johnson had created a damaging precedent that could undermine chief constables nationwide, warning of the “toxic mix” of politics, vested interests and the police.
By Monday Johnson had moved on and ordered an inquiry into allegation of racial discrimination within the Met, including the claims of Tarique Ghaffur.
The Metropolitan Black Police Association claims that 72 per cent of their members have experienced racism at work and urged black people to boycott all recruitment drives.
It said it would “be failing in its duty” not to tell them of the “hostile and racist situation there”.
“We will not put up or shut up to racism and inequality.”
The Met BPA said the current suspensions of Commander Ali Dizaei and Britain’s most senior Muslim officer, Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur, were proof that ethnic minority officers were treated less favourably than white staff.
Dizaei was suspended after being accused of misconduct, while Ghaffur was “temporarily relieved of his responsibilities” by then Met Commissioner Sir Ian Blair.
On Tuesday Jacqui Smith also ordered an inquiry into racism within all police forces in England and Wales.

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