Congratulations to Cressida Dick who has overcome the pain and controversy of being the Gold commander in the operation which led to the fatal shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes in 2005, to become the first woman Commissioner of the Met. The Policing Board here passed her over for Chief Constable in 2014, preferring George Hamilton as the first local man to head up the PSNI. Gender therefore isn’t everything, although her application suggested that the PSNI job could still be a road to the top. Why did she apply? Did she fear that carrying the taint of the Menezes tragedy would have ruled her out of the Met job and that the PSNI was an exile or still a good second best? Would she have got the Met after only two and a bit years in Belfast?
The links between the Met and the NI police have been strong for nearly 50 years. They began with Sir Robert Mark in 1969 later a scourge of corruption in the Met, who was the brains behind the Hunt report which attempted to demilitarise the RUC just at the point when the Troubles took fire. Mark died in 2010 at 93.
Ken Newman was another leading policeman of his day who became chief constable in 1976 after two years as deputy and the only one to move to Met Commissioner. He came to prominence as police commander at the famous Grosvenor Square demo against the Vietnam war in 1969. His death three weeks ago aged 90 seems to have passed unnoticed.
Newman brought a new professionalism to the RUC to adapt them for replacing the Army in the leading security role which Jack Hermon the longest serving chief constable of the Troubles, inherited and developed. Tension between the police and army high command was the byproduct of more assertive police leadership, accompanied by controversy over interrogation techniques at Castlereagh, a semi- paramilitary role for the police and later, collusion.
A Met assistant commissioner, the unflashy Dublin-born Hugh Annesley succeeded Jack Hermon as chief in 1989 and was in turn succeeded by the local man Ronnie Flanagan who turned out to be the last chief constable of the RUC. Keen to signal that he left with distinction after the Patten report and the horrors of the Omagh bomb, the Home Secretary appointed Flanagan to the arguably equally eminent role of HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary.
For the NI police after a short interregnum, next came Hugh Orde who was as John Stevens’ protégée ran the Steven’s inquiry’s operations day to day .He already knew where RUC bones were buried and handled the difficult transition between RUC and PSNI with confidence and honour to both the old and the new. He was passed over for the job of Met Commissioner because ( I think ) he was too outspoken in AGPO. He cheeked the then Home Secretary Theresa May by describing politicians as “ an irrelevance” in the sudden outbreak of London rioting in 2011.
Since Orde’s day the role of the PSNI has inevitably been downgraded to match the post-Troubles environment. PSNI chiefs are no longer automatically candidates for the top post. However the interchange is likely to continue. What about links to the Gardai? Orde was sounded out in 2014. Who knows, if he’d taken the job, Enda Kenny might be retaining his instead of being squeezed out of office?
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London