Belfast Telegraph

Perfect policing storm puts Orde top of list for Met job

Politicians might not like Sir Hugh's no-nonsense style, but they should listen to what he says, argues Brian Rowan

It has been a busy last seven days for former PSNI chief constable Sir Hugh Orde - a week of wedding bells and big job interviews. Sir Hugh wants to be the next commissioner of the Metropolitan Police; wants back into the day-to-day business of operational policing.

And, a week after being married, his mind turns to that challenge and phase two of the interviews.

A few days ago, he was interviewed by a panel of Home Office officials, and, today, it is the turn of the Metropolitan Police Authority to ask their questions.

There are three other applicants: acting commissioner Tim Godwin, the chief constable of Strathclyde, Stephen House, and former Merseyside chief constable Bernard Hogan-Howe.

These interviews come after the turmoil of the London riots, with the Olympics not far away and after all the scrutiny of the police investigation of the phone-hacking scandal.

Has there ever been such tension at that police-politics interface? Orde calls a spade a shovel; at times he has the subtlety of a sledgehammer. His recent strong words defending police operational independence will still be stinging political ears. As president of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), the post he moved to in 2009, Orde will be missing the big investigations, the big challenges.

He was in Northern Ireland at key moments in the peace process. He said what other chief constables could not (and would not) say; that a way had to be found to close the book on the past, an issue he was back debating in Belfast recently.

Orde was in Downing Street in 2004 for an historic meeting with republican leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. Months later, he publicly named the IRA as being responsible for the Northern Bank robbery.

So he knows that police/politics interface; knows there has to be dialogue and conversations.

But he also knows the difference between politics and policing; where lines cannot and should not be crossed. There are senior politicians who won't like a lot of what Orde has had to say recently, who won't like the fact that he said it, that he was not afraid to disagree with the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary; that he walked with his policing boots into that battle between independence and interference.

But they should think some more about some of the things he said, in public and private.

Orde knows from his experience here the damage that can be done to police/community relations by bad policing decisions, by the wrong operational tactic, by not talking and not listening.

It would be too easy in the current London climate to get obsessed by one issue - that of gangs.

Of course, it is a huge issue, but there is a wider frame; the impact of cuts on frontline policing, the question of change to make policing better and, with the Olympics next year, the threat of terrorism and the need for thought-through security preparations.

Orde knows public-order operational policing, knows the process of change through the sweeping reforms of the Patten report, knows the counter-terrorist world, and knows about the processes needed to build better relationships with communities.

For decades here, republicans were at war with the police and Orde was part of the dialogue and conversations that were about ending that enemy relationship.

After today's interviews, there is another phase to this process involving the Home Secretary and the London Mayor, more questions and more answers, before we know who will be appointed to the most senior police post in the UK.

In 2009, Orde came close to getting that job, finishing second to Sir Paul Stephenson, and, this time, he will be hoping to go one better.

If he does, he will bring his shovel and his sledgehammer to that interface where policing and politics meet and to a place where the two cannot and should not always agree.

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