The row between Boris Johnson and the police reignited today after one of Britain's most senior officers said it was "entirely unacceptable" to claim the Met was under Tory control.
Sir Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, attacked City Hall Conservatives for suggesting they now had their "hands on the tiller" of the London force. Deputy mayor Kit Malthouse prompted a backlash last week when he came up with the phrase and suggested policing should be put under political control just as health and education were.
Sir Hugh said chief constables around the country were united in opposing the politicisation of their forces, declaring maintaining law and order was "far too important to be used as a political football". He also widened his attack to slam Tory plans for elected police commissioners, warning that David Cameron's proposals could result in "lunatics" or the BNP in charge of policing.
Mr Malthouse infuriated the Met with his comments last week and his suggestion that City Hall now controlled the force was flatly denied by Scotland Yard Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson. When asked on BBC1's Andrew Marr programme about Mr Malthouse's remarks, Sir Hugh replied: "I find it entirely unacceptable from a professional police officer's point of view, and I know I can speak with absolute clarity for all the 44 chiefs that lead policing in this country."
The Mayor's office refused to comment on the criticism. Sir Hugh, who was a contender for the top Met job before Sir Paul was appointed, said it was unfair of the Conservatives to suggest that officers were not currently accountable enough. The former chief constable for Northern Ireland today stepped up his attacks, calling on the Conservative Party to explain exactly how it plans to alter the leadership of Britain's police forces should it win the next election.
He told the Independent: "No one has articulated to me or anyone else what the elected commissioner plan actually looks like. I know that Labour have stepped back from it, but the Conservatives are still committed to it. They need to talk to us about what exactly they are talking about doing. Do they think that the public are so interested in policing that they would turn out and vote? And for whom? A politician? Or do they mind if they get a lunatic or a retired copper? All of these questions need to be answered."
Asked whether he feared a BNP or far-Right candidate could seize upon this, Sir Hugh replied: "Yes, that is a risk. If you have a system whereby anyone can stand to be elected as the local police commissioner, you could have any Tom, Dick or Harriet standing. If they can muster enough support against a backdrop of public apathy, then of course it is a risk."
Many supporters of the proposal have pointed out that it is similar to apparently successful models in the United States, but Sir Hugh rejected the suggestion that it could work here. He added: "Perhaps people should go to America before saying things like that. I know a lot of sheriffs and they seem to spend a lot of their time canvassing and preparing for elections. Is that really what the public wants for British policing?"
London Evening Standard