Profile Books Ltd Reviewed in 2009
Author: Ian Blair (Sir Ian Blair was Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police from 2004-8.
Publishers: Profile Books Ltd
Publication Date: 2nd Nov 2009
Publisher's Title Information
Britain's former top policeman finally speaks out
He had been in the role for just five months when the tube and bus bombings of 7 July 2005 hit London in the worst terrorist atrocity in English history. And when four suicide bombers tried to kill more people on 21 July that, too, was on his beat. As was the frantic search for the bombers and the tragic death of Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell the following day.
As Britain's most senior police officer Ian faced extraordinary pressure. He was answerable to three bosses - the Home Secretary, the Mayor of London and the Metropolitan Police Authority. He had to tread a skilful line in keeping the public and the media on side, as well as the politicians - an almost impossible task. And, most of all, he led a force of 53,000 police officers and other staff, and managed a £3bn annual budget, in the battle to keep crime under control and terrorism at bay. Few jobs could be more challenging - or more gruelling.
Sir Ian has been silent since his resignation in autumn 2008. In his new book, Policing Controversy, he now speaks out, giving his own perspective on the Met and the decisions that have to be taken on t he street, within Scotland Yard, or inside the top secret centre underneath Whitehall.
Compelling and revealing, Policing Controversy is the most significant account of policing to be written in a generation.
Between 2004 and 2008 Sir Ian was Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. Here is his personal account of the toughest and most important job in policing. Charting his early days as a constable, to his appointment as apparently the most liberal Police Commissioner in recent years, Ian Blair examines his support for the most draconian powers ever sought by the police in peacetime, his relationship with key politicians, and the clash with Boris Johnson which culminated in his resignation in 2008. Setting this remarkable career in the context of Britain's policing history, from the foundation of Scotland Yard in the early nineteenth century, Ian Blair tells the story of the police and their often challenging relationship with us, the public, and of fighting terrorism and crime everywhere in Britain.
Compelling and revealing, is the most significant account of policing to be written in a generation.
The Author was educated in England and America and joined the Metropolitan Police in London in 1974, in which he served both in uniform and as a detective. He moved to Thames Valley Police in 1996 and then became Chief Constable of Surrey in 1998. He was appointed the Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police in 2000 and Commissioner in 2005. He resigned in 2008, after more than thirty-four years as a police officer. He was knighted in 2003. This is his second book. He is married with two grown up children.
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When Sir Robert Peel founded the Metropolitan Police in 1829 he appointed John Wray to be the Receiver responsible for all financial affairs while operational and other policing matters were to be the sole responsibility of the Commissioner. Unlike certain other countries that later imitated the London system, the Metropolitan Police was deemed to be a non-political organisation.
Even so, political spats occurred in the 1880s when Sir Charles Warren was Commissioner and in the 1970s when Commissioner Sir Robert Mark was in office so it is not surprising that Sir Ian Blair encountered similar difficulties. The one difference being that his began prior to taking up office.
In his book “Policing Controversy” Ian Blair wrote that two weeks before his appointment, comments appeared in certain sections of the press about his alleged political correctness beliefs and close links with the Labour Party. In later years the press picked up other so-called controversial matters such as Bair's comments about the press giving more publicity to certain white as opposed to black murders. This became one of his gaffes, a word usually reserved for Prince Philip, so he was in good company.
After an illustrious career reaching the rank of chief constable he was selected for the top job in the Met where, only a few months later, terrorists struck London and killed innocent civilians. Shortly afterward another attack took place when an innocent Brazilian was shot by police marksmen. It was this incident that culminated in the press increasing their attacks on Blair, inter alia, for delaying an enquiry by the Independent Police Complaints Commission.
The author relates in great detail the reasoning behind the delay and explains the background behind many other charges against him by political journalists and columnists. One non-political example was the request by police to extend its powers to detain suspects for up to ninety days to give police a longer period of time to examine evidence: Blair quotes one investigation involving 37,000 exhibits and attempts to trace nearly 25,000 people quite apart from analysing thousands of telephone and other necessary enquiries. The proposal was immediately lambasted by politicians and journalists alike, who were of the opinion that for a police officer to explain the reasoning behind the recommendation would be political: as a result the public were presented with one side of the argument only.
During the past few decades the press and politicians have become more vociferous; anyone deemed antiauthoritarian (according to the political party involved) is ridiculed even though parliamentary elections have shown that the majority of the population are not hoodwinked by often blatant inaccuracies. It is not unusual for individuals holding high office to be prone to such attacks if they do not conform, which could be a matter of some concern. In Blair's case he was strongly criticised for giving a Dimbleby Lecture even though one of his predecessors (Robert Mark) did so. Concern was also expressed about the police publicity machine, even though the first publicity officer was appointed by Mark some years earlier.
Apart from external political controversy surrounding his tenure Blair also had to contend with internal matters involving three discontented senior officers, who received what some observers might describe as intense television and press publicity ad nauseam.
While Blair describes in great detail his version of the various incidents over the years it is a pity there were few mentions of other senior officers who presumably performed their appointed functions without rancour. To have given details of their achievements and other police accomplishments (excepting terrorist enquiries) might have convinced his doubters he was at least attempting to steer the ship in the right direction.
Despite this neglect, presumably either the Home Secretary or the Mayor of London will surely make a presentation of this book to all future candidates, for the high office of Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, if only to ensure they will be aware in advance that the relationship between the two offices will not make the successful candidate's task any easier, with or without different political parties involved.
Ian Blair could be said to have been tethered to an elastic band pulled by two opposing antagonists, each assisted by the appropriate fourth estate. It brings to mind a comment made by Frederick Adolphus, who had risen from the rank of constable to chief constable and considered to have been one of the greatest police officers of the 19th century. On meeting a colleague who had just arrived at New Scotland Yard he said: “You are coming to a funny old place. They'll blame you if you do your duty, and they'll blame you if you don't.”