Belfast Telegraph

Monday 21 April 2014

Single-minded Sir Hugh exactly what Met needs

Liam Clarke

One side-effect of the London riots is that William Hill has stopped giving odds on who will be the new commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.

"All bets are off," a company representative told me, explaining that the result would clearly hang on how well the situation was handled.

The two officers who have a chance to shine - or flat-line - are Tim Godwin, the acting commissioner, who is in day-to-day charge, and Sir Hugh Orde, the current head of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), who is national spokesman for the police generally.

But I must declare an interest. I once invited Sir Hugh to a News International party at the end of 2001 when Rebekah Wade was at the News of the World, where journalistic phone-hacking was allegedly in full swing.

Deputy assistant commissioner Orde, as he then was, socialised with us into the early hours and there were sore heads the next day.

I regarded Orde as a good contact and we got on well. When he was appointed Chief Constable of the PSNI, he even came to dinner in my home.

It didn't last, though. By May 2003, I was standing at the Policing Board heckling him as Sammy Wilson asked if his decision to have myself and my wife arrested was political.

We had been detained overnight and interrogated in the anti-terrorist holding suite at Antrim police station after publishing leaked transcripts of conversations on Martin McGuinness's home phone, which had been recorded by British intelligence.

The arrest wasn't a good move; the police were later lambasted by the Police Ombudsman and eventually had to pay us compensation.

Sir Hugh doesn't let journalistic independence stand in the way of him doing his duty, as shown by his failed attempts to access the journalistic records of Ed Moloney and Suzanne Breen.

The point is, though, that he is in no one's pocket.

He didn't let hospitality, personal friendship, or the maintenance of good relations with news organisations, get in the way of what he saw as his duty.

Orde is implacable; this man bites.

Friends he had in the PSNI found out when he took over and showed them no favour.

Recently, he described proposals by the Prime Minister to bring in a foreign police chief to head the Met as "quite simply stupid". The result was that the Government wheeled back.

This is the sort of independent mind the Met needs to take the helm as it fights off rioters on one side and corruption allegations on the other.

And Sir Hugh's experience in gaining theI cross-community acceptance of the PSNI won't hurt either.

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