Wednesday 28 January 2009

Blair's Man Becomes Met Commissioner

A change at the top of the Metropolitan Police? Hardly. There can be little suprise that Home Secretary Jacqui Smith approved the appointment of Sir Paul Stephenson as the new Metropolitan Police Commissioner, but perhaps raised eyebrows that the increasingly bewildered London Mayor, Boris Johnson, should offer such an enthusiastic endorsement.

For 'Rusty' Stephenson, so named by London's police officers for his strangely permanent tan, has consistently been the most loyal supporter of his predecesor, Sir Ian Blair, during one of the most disastrous periods in the Met's history.

Let's not forget that it was Stephenson who vigorously defended Blair in the aftermath of the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, backing his boss' claims that he did not know the Met had shot the wrong man until 24 hours after Jean's death.

Brian Paddick, in his book 'Line of Fire', alleges that Stephenson attempted to force him to issue a statement saying he had misrepresented the Met, after Paddick gave evidence to the Independent Police Complaints Commission in which he claimed that two of Sir Ian Blair's closest advisers believed Jean's killing was a fatal mistake many hours before Sir Ian himself claimed to have found out. After Paddick refused to be bullied and sought legal advice, he received an apology and Stephenson was publicly obliged to say the Met did not intend to imply that Paddick had misled the IPCC. Paddick has also claimed that Stephenson's secretary told him she had known the Met had shot the wrong man by 4pm on the day that Jean died. And if she knew, how come her boss claimed ignorance?

Let's not also forget that it was Stephenson who went to the Metropolitan Police Authority and demanded that then Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur face suspension after he had made an allegation of racial discrimination - and that it was Stephenson who told Ghaffur (in a public statement), "it is long past time we shut up, stop making public statements about a private dispute and get on with the job we are paid to do." It was this comment that helped drive the London branch of the Black Police Association to call for a boycott by potential black applicants to the Met.

As a senior member of Sir Blair's inner circle, Stephenson is as tainted by the most controversial elements of the Met's recent history as his former boss. Forget the glowing profiles and the spin - his appointment as Commissioner represents a continuation of the discredited Blair era, not a break with the past.

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