Will Sir Hugh Orde crown his career by taking the top job at the Met?
On the face of it, it may have had the appearance of a no-brainer — something that would have required little thought before the clock struck noon yesterday and the deadline for applications passed.
And, yet, it will not have been an easy decision, not even when the possible prize is the most prestigious post in UK policing — Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.
For Sir Hugh Orde — one of the favourites for the London job both with the bookies and commentators — there will have been much to consider.
The dissident republican threat to his officers here in Northern Ireland is considered at its most serious. He highlighted that fact again in a weekend BBC radio interview.
There is unfinished business in the reform process including the devolution of policing and justice powers to Stormont, and you have a service in mourning after the deaths of four officers in recent days.
Then, there is the issue of the past and how it is managed and dealt with, and another question: What if he was unsuccessful?
“That is what every chief has to weigh up,” a source commented.
But a field for the London job that did not have Sir Hugh in it would have something missing.
That is an indication of his standing and his place in UK policing.
In every piece of reporting since Sir Ian Blair announced his resignation back in October, the PSNI Chief Constable has been named not only as a contender— but also as a serious challenger; some even see him as favourite.
At a recent Association of Chief Police Officers conference in Belfast much of the talking on the sidelines was about the London job and the likely field. Sir Hugh’s name was in every conversation.
The same names kept coming up — current Deputy Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson, who is seen as “the man to beat”, Sir Hugh Orde, and the Chief Constables of West Midlands and Merseyside Sir Paul Scott-Lee and Bernard Hogan-Howe.
At this stage of his policing career, this is a moment Sir Hugh simply could not ignore — an opportunity too inviting and too important to be allowed to pass by.
The PSNI Chief Constable is still young enough for the pressure and the challenge of the Met. He knows that piece of policing turf — and he knows the issues.
Publicly Sir Hugh has not declared his hand — but he is believed to be in that field of senior officers wanting to succeed Sir Ian Blair. For Sir Hugh it opens out the possibility of a return to London where he spent 25 years of his policing career.
He will know that Sir Paul Stephenson — the current Deputy Commissioner — is the pre-interview favourite for the job.
The two know each other — and were part of some of the same courses that shaped them for the highest ranks of policing.
Interviews, short-listing and then a recommendation from the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith is the process that will now play out.
The nature of Sir Ian Blair’s resignation back in October — the fact that he was forced out by London Mayor Boris Johnson — has raised questions on the issue of political interference.
But, here, in Northern Ireland Sir Hugh has significant experience at that police/politics interface.
He was part of some of the key negotiations in the making of the peace, including the talks with Gerry Adams and the Sinn Fein leadership that paved the way for republican participation in policing.
I have described him as being “as subtle as a sledgehammer”. That is his way
He says out loud what he is thinking — and on occasions he has rocked political boats.
So, is London calling?
If you’re not in you can’t win.
Sir Hugh — a man of several marathons — is in the running, and good enough to have a chance of winning.