The resignation of Sir Paul Stephenson leaves a big hole at the top of the Metropolitan Police. Stephenson's position had become untenable, but there's no denying that he had been doing a solid job until he was engulfed in the hacking scandal, and the expressions of sadness at his resignation from figures across the political divide are testament to his skill in the role.
The hacking scandal might be dominating the news agenda at the moment, but that should not mask the fact that the force's day to day concerns go far further than the activities of News International and the other members of the press - although dealing with the fallout is no mean task by itself. With counter-terrorist activities still being of primary concern, particularly in the run up to the Olympic Games next year, the Met needs a firm hand at the tiller.
That's why I'd urge Boris Johnson and the other members of the Metropolitan Police Authority to move swiftly to appoint Sir Hugh Orde as the new Commissioner. When Stephenson got the job 18 months ago, it was Orde whom he pipped to the post - and there can scarcely be anyone better qualified now to see the Met through the choppy times ahead.
Orde has proved himself in the most volatile of environments- heading up the Police Service of Northern Ireland during its infancy, winning it a large degree of acceptance from people across a very divided community. Although policing was one of the most fraught issues in post- Good Friday Northern Ireland, Orde successfully navigated the potential pitfalls to win support from all sides.
His decision to meet with Gerry Adams was a brave one, but it ultimately paved the way for Sinn Fein to accept the legitimacy of the PSNI - which thereby helped to put in place the final pieces of Northern Irish devolution. His support for Catholic police officers also helped the force to become more representative and more accepted - and it therefore became more effective. He is also the man for a crisis - I was working in Northern Ireland after the dreadful killing of PC Stephen Carroll in 2009, and from first hand experience I know that Orde's reaction was exemplary. There's no doubt that there were still problems in Northern Ireland, particularly with regard to the rates of conviction, but Orde has shown his suitability for a fraught and high-profile position.
Then of course we have to think about dealing with News International, and on this subject too, Orde has been unafraid to speak out. He has called Andy Hayman, the former Met assistant commissioner, "unwise" for having dined with News International executives, and he has also urged Murdoch's company to stop playing "legal games". Such an uncompromising stance is just what is needed given that Stephenson fell because of the hacking scandal.
But let's put this all in the bigger context. The head of the Met has a job to do keeping London safe. That means continuing to target knife and gun crime and doing the right things in counter-terrorism. Moreover, with the police's reputation taking a bashing, the Met quickly needs to fight back. Prevarication or a long recruitment procedure will only hinder the hacking investigation and the Met's reputation. It desperately needs a new Commissioner - and the decision must be a quick one. The mayor has long shown that he is unafraid to be bold, and he must be so again here. Londoners need an effective police force to keep them safe and they need a force that they can trust - at a time when the hacking revelations have damaged that trust very badly. A stand in cannot do in a time of crisis. I'm sure that Orde is ready and waiting. Boris Johnson should pick up the phone.
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