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10 September 2008

Is Blair a time limited liability?

Ex-top cop Brian Paddick on the suspension of the Met's Tarique Ghaffur and how Commissioner Ian Bla

By Brian Paddick

How is that Sir Ian Blair, the embattled Metropolitan Police Commissioner, finds himself in such a mess with Tarique Ghaffur, the most senior Asian police officer in the UK?

Blair’s unique selling points were supposedly his pro-diversity stance, his liberal attitudes and his progressive outlook, in some ways the antithesis of his predecessor in the role, John Stevens.

Why then, in the unprecedented press conference given by Ghaffur to explain why he was taking his case to an Employment Tribunal, was Lord Stevens cited in Ghaffur’s list of heroes while Blair was accused of racism, Islamaphobia and ageism?

This week saw Sir Ian’s number two asking the Metropolitan Police Authority, the only body with the authority to do so, to suspend Ghaffur over alleged disciplinary offences committed by Ghaffur by giving the press conference. They refused.

The following day, the Commissioner appeared to take the law into his own hands effectively suspending Ghaffur himself. The only difference between the Commissioner enforcing ‘gardening leave’ and a Police Authority suspension is that Ghaffur still retains his warrant card and uniform. He has however been stripped of his authority as an Assistant Commissioner and of all his responsibilities.

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Whatever the merits of Ghaffur’s case, his ability to successfully lead has been proven. As the Assistant Commissioner in charge of Specialist Crime, the results his department produced were impressive.

A record number of murders were solved and armed robbery and other serious crime were reduced. His officers’ record in successfully dealing with kidnap and extortion were close to 100 per cent. Some have questioned Ghaffur’s ability but he is no Keystone cop.

Ghaffur felt that such success should be rewarded with additional resources for his department but the Blair wanted to invest in neighbourhood policing and the political imperative was terrorism. Ghaffur challenged the decision publicly, the Home Office ordered Sir Ian to get tough and Ghaffur was moved to another department.

He was put in charge of traffic, boats and helicopters, arguably less important but with one significant exception – responsibility for security at the 2012 Olympics.

Unbowed, Ghaffur took to his new duties with gusto, not least the Olympics. When this ‘jewel in the crown’ of Ghaffur’s new empire was taken from him, he had had enough and seven years of pent-up frustration finally surfaced in an Employment Tribunal claim.

Sir Ian Blair’s frustration with Tarique Ghaffur is understandable, at least from Blair’s perspective. When Blair asked Ghaffur to investigate the police’s repeated arrests of Delroy Lindo, a black man often stopped, charged but never convicted, Blair apparently decided the report was too damming to be published.

It is widely believed at The Yard that Ghaffur’s evidence in support of Iranian-born senior officer Ali Desai led to the collapse of ‘Operation Helios’, a multi-million pound investigation into alleged corruption led by Blair. Clearly Ghaffur’s press conference to announce his employment tribunal was damaging to Blair but for Blair’s deputy to claim that it amounted to a breach of discipline requiring suspension was stretching things, and the Police Authority agreed.

From my personal knowledge of the players, I believe Blair is being badly advised. Disputes, such as those between Ghaffur and Blair, cannot be dealt with by heavy-handed power-play.

Stevens, when he was Commissioner, was a master of frightening the life out of his senior players and within hours, having his arm around them. He knew the importance of keeping people close. Blair may be saying to his advisors ‘that’s another fine mess you’ve gotten me into’ but a Commissioner who has allowed himself to get into this position could be seen as a time-limited liability.

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