London police seek "single-minded crime fighter"

LONDON Wed Aug 17, 2011 12:44pm BST

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LONDON (Reuters) - Four applicants are set to fight it out to be London's new police chief and take on responsibility for running Britain's biggest force as it battles with the aftermath of serious rioting and a high-profile investigation which has put some of its own staff under the spotlight.

The current acting chief, Tim Godwin, has applied and three other top policemen are also believed to be in the running for the job of Metropolitan Police Commissioner.

Whoever gets the 250,000 pound a year job, the most senior police post in the country, will oversee the force which has national responsibility for counter-terrorism, protecting Queen Elizabeth and her family, and policing some 7.2 million Londoners.

The Met will also oversee next year's London Olympic Games which is expected to be Britain's biggest peacetime security operation.

Bill Bratton, the former New York and Los Angeles police chief who was courted by Prime Minister David Cameron, was seen as a possible candidate but was ruled out when Home Secretary Theresa May said the applicant had to be British.

According to media reports, Stephen House, the head of Strathclyde Police in Scotland, is considered a front-runner, while the Met's current acting deputy Bernard Hogan-Howe and former Northern Ireland police chief Hugh Orde are also reported to have applied before Thursday's midday deadline.

The result is expected to be announced by the end of September.

The high-profile post, which has become something of a poisoned chalice in recent years, has been vacant since Paul Stephenson stepped down over the phone-hacking scandal that has embroiled the British newspaper arm of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp media empire.

Ironically, the independent police watchdog cleared Stephenson and three other former officers of any misconduct.

Stephenson himself had only been in the job since January 2009 after his predecessor was forced out by London's Mayor Boris Johnson after months of media pressure.

Last year, the Met Police was criticised for its handling of student protests, when it was accused of being too heavy-handed and too restrained in equal measure, while it was convicted in 2007 of breaking health and safety laws after armed officers shot dead an innocent Brazilian electrician mistaken as a suicide bomber.

Other damaging accusations have seen senior officers accused of being too close to some newspaper executives and thus failing to properly investigate the phone-hacking allegations, while detectives are also looking at claims some officers took bribes from journalists in return for information.

In the last few weeks, senior officers, including some seeking the top job, have come under fire over the worst rioting seen in the capital for decades. Politicians said the police had been too slow to react to the disorder.

The candidates will face a selection process involving the Home Secretary, the London Mayor and the Metropolitan Police Authority, the force's governing body, with Queen Elizabeth nominally making the final choice. May has said the new commissioner should be a "single-minded, crime-fighter."

The successful applicant will be in charge of London's force of more than 31,000 officers, 90 horses and 170 dogs along with almost 8,000 community and volunteer officers. New York currently has about 34,500 officers.

Theses are the reported four applicants:

HUGH ORDE

Orde is the current President of the Association of Chief Police Officers. He started out as an officer in the Met Police in 1977 and rose through the ranks. As the local area commander for the deprived area of Brixton in south London, he devised Operation Trident, a strategy to deal with drugs-related crime. He rose to be Deputy Assistant Commissioner before being appointed head of the newly formed Police Service of Northern Ireland, created following the Good Friday peace agreement in 1998. He held the job, considered the second highest in British policing, for seven years. Popular with ordinary officers and extremely experienced, his sometimes outspoken comments and his readiness to speak out against the government may count against him.

STEPHEN HOUSE

House is currently the Chief Constable of Strathclyde Police in Scotland. Originally from Glasgow in Scotland where his force is based, he began his policing career with Sussex Police and was working as a constable when the Irish Republican Army (IRA) bombed a hotel in Brighton where then-prime minister Margaret Thatcher and her Conservative government were holding a party conference in 1984. He worked for Northamptonshire Police and West Yorkshire Police before becoming assistant chief constable for Staffordshire. He moved to the Met Police as Deputy Assistant Commissioner in 2001 before being promoted to Assistant Commissioner in 2005, later taking over the department that handled homicide and other major crimes. He moved to Strathclyde in 2007 and was encouraged by the Home Office to apply for the London job.

TIM GODWIN

Godwin is the Acting Commissioner at the Met Police. A keen rugby player, Godwin joined Sussex Police in 1981 after spending six years working in the Merchant Navy. He rose through the ranks before joining the Met Police in 1999 as a commander in south London. He was promoted to Deputy Assistant Commissioner in 2001 before rising to Assistant Commissioner a year later. During his time at the Met, he set up a Safer Streets initiative which saw robbery cut by 30 percent over three years. He took over the job as deputy commissioner in 2008 and has been running the London force since Paul Stephenson stepped down in July. While Godwin has great experience at the Met, the force was criticised for its handling of the recent riots which could damage his chances.

BERNARD HOGAN-HOWE

Hogan-Howe joined South Yorkshire Police where he rose through the ranks until he joined Merseyside Police as Assistant Chief Constable in 1997, where he was the officer in charge of events such as the Grand National horse race. In 2001, he joined the Met as Assistant Commissioner where he had responsibility for human resources. He returned to Merseyside as chief constable in 2004 where he was an advocate of "zero tolerance" policing and his tenure saw crime fall by a third with a 26 percent reduction in anti-social behaviour. He left Merseyside in 2009 and joined Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary, the body which inspects forces across England and Wales. A fan of Sheffield Wednesday soccer club, he returned to the Met as Acting Deputy Commissioner in the wake of Stephenson's departure.

(Editing by Steve Addison)

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