What are we to make of Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner? What are we to make of the Met itself, for that matter?
I can’t decide whether Hogan-Howe is competent and independent, or ineffective and deferential to vested political interests and public outrage. Frankly, I didn’t much care for him from the moment of his appointment three years ago, but for the life of me I can’t explain why. He just didn’t seem to have the necessary gravitas. (My relatives who were once police officers will no doubt hasten put me right on this.) If nothing else, he seemed an improvement over his two dismissed predecessors – Sir Paul Stephenson, who resigned after accepting hospitality from a police informant in the phone hacking scandal – and Sir Ian Blair – who was forced out after a series of disagreements with Mayor Boris Johnson. That, however, isn’t saying a great deal in his favour.
Of late, Hogan-Howe’s name keeps popping up in the newspapers because he has been asked by various people to apologise, respectively, to the widow of Lord Brittan, a former cabinet minister, and to Lord Bramall, a former chief of the defence staff, for separate police investigations into allegations of child abuse, both of which came to nothing and, arguably, should not have gone as far as they did since coming to nothing was easily the likeliest prospect. But then everything about the recent epidemic of sexual abuse scandals in Britain is confused and contentious. The sins of the late unlamented Jimmy Savile were plain for all to see – not that it encouraged people to step forward to condemn him – but since then the investigative net has been cast so far and so wide that one might believe that the entire political and show business establishments are under investigation.
The two sides of the argument line up as those who think the Met responded to the sundry allegations – some of them several decades old – with the proper degree of alacrity, and those who think the police allowed themselves to be swept up in a tide of media-provoked hysteria without going through the irksome procedures of collecting sufficient incriminating evidence to bring about prosecutions. Neither you nor I have been privy to the original investigations; all we’ve seen are various reports on them. These seem to be about equally divided on the question of whether the Met did its job properly or simply responded, panic-stricken, to the public outcry and decided to focus on the alleged perpetrators with the highest profiles – namely Brittan and Bramall.
Poor Hogan-Howe is damned if he apologises and damned if he doesn’t. If he does, then he’s admitting that the Old Bill got it all badly wrong. If he doesn’t, then the complaints about the lack of competence in the Met will rumble on ad infinitum. I think the chap is a dead man walking anyway. When you can normally expect to have your contract renewed for three years and you only get one, which has just happened, the writing is on the Scotland Yard wall.
Hogan-Howe’s departure would be a blow if not a shock. It would leave some of us pondering whether the job is actually tenable. To quote Wilde, to lose one Met Commissioner may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness. What does losing three in a row say?
It says, to me, that the job is either becoming impossible to perform in the café of media and political pressures, or that the last three choices have been so wrong as to suggest that it is the process of selection, and the selectors themselves, have been unfit for purpose. Either way, the result is that Met itself is in danger of becoming unfit for purpose.
I wish someone would sort it out.
Bring back Sir John Stevens, if he’s still alive. He looked like a copper who would take no nonsense from anyone, above or below him. Better still, find another one like him.