News & Current Affairs

October 2, 2008

Britain’s top policeman resigns

Britain’s top policeman resigns

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair has announced his resignation, blaming a lack of support from London mayor Boris Johnson.

Sir Ian said that “without the mayor’s backing I do not think I can continue”.

Mr Johnson, who took over as chairman of the police authority on Wednesday, praised his service but said the Met would benefit from “new leadership”.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said deputy commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson will take over as acting head of the Met.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Sir Ian had made a “huge personal contribution to the safety and security of our country”.

He paid tribute to Sir Ian’s leadership at the time of the July 2005 suicide bomb attacks on London’s transport system.

Ms Smith said: “I pay tribute to Sir Ian for the massive reductions in crime that his leadership of the Met has overseen and his continuing efforts to tackle gun, gang and knife crime.”

“His part in leading neighbourhood policing across London has led to Londoners being safer and more confident.”

Mr Johnson, who has repeatedly avoided publicly backing Sir Ian since being elected mayor in May, had called for the commissioner to be directly accountable to City Hall.

Speaking after Sir Ian’s resignation, the mayor said: “There comes a time in any organisation when it becomes clear it would benefit from new leadership and clarity of purpose. I believe that time is now.”

The former London mayor Ken Livingstone said the circumstances of the resignation appeared to be a political decision.

“Whoever now takes the job as Sir Ian’s successor will know that they may be asked to leave at a change of election.”

‘No secrets’

Sir Ian, who became the UK’s top police officer in February 2005, said he would be stepping down on 1 December.

Defending his record, Sir Ian said: “I am resigning not because of any failures of my service and not because the pressures of the office and the many stories that surround it are too much.

The new mayor made clear, in a very pleasant and determined way, that he wished there to be a change of leadership
Sir Ian Blair

“I am resigning in the best interests of the people of London and of the Metropolitan Police Service.”

He said he had wanted to stay on until his contract ran out in February 2010.

“However, at a meeting yesterday the new mayor made clear, in a very pleasant and determined way, that he wished there to be a change of leadership at the Met.”

Sir Ian’s tenure has been dogged by controversy.

MPA auditors are in the process of examining Scotland Yard contracts given to consultancy firm Impact Plus, run by a friend.

Sir Ian has said he had been “open and straightforward in informing both the MPS [Metropolitan Police Service] and the MPA about my relationship with someone who was subsequently awarded a contract with the MPS”.

Sir Ian has also faced criticism over the racism row involving the Met’s most senior Asian officer Tarique Ghaffur.

There have been questions too about his handling of events surrounding the 2005 death of Jean Charles de Menezes, who was shot dead at Stockwell Underground station in south London after being mistaken for a suicide bomber.

The Met Police were later convicted of a health and safety offence over the incident.

Erionaldo da Silva, speaking on behalf of the de Menezes family, said Sir Ian should have resigned three years ago and the decision to do so now should not deflect attention from Jean Charles’ ongoing inquest.

Shadow home secretary Dominic Grieve said Sir Ian had taken the “right decision” in standing down.

“We have been calling for Sir Ian to step down for almost a year – since the serial and systematic failings at the Metropolitan Police [service] disclosed during the de Menezes trial – whilst cabinet ministers from the PM onwards continued to express total confidence in him.

HAVE YOUR SAY

It’s a very difficult job, and I don’t believe that he did badly, but he needs to go

Nic Brough, London

“It is now clear that they have shown a serious lack of judgment about the leadership of the most important police force in Britain.

“It is vital that a successor is appointed who can restore public confidence.”

Lib Dem home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said Sir Ian “had become part of the Met’s problem, not its solution”.

“His resignation is long overdue following a string of embarrassments for his force… the Met now needs a tough professional, not a wannabe politician.”

Sir Edward Henry was the last commissioner of the Metropolitan Police to quit in 1918. His departure came after the hugely damaging police strike of that year, the last time officers were allowed to walk out.

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August 28, 2008

Hacker loses extradition appeal

Hacker loses extradition appeal

Gary McKinnon

Gary McKinnon could face a long prison sentence

A Briton accused of hacking into secret military computers has lost his appeal against extradition to the US.

Glasgow-born Gary McKinnon was said to be “distraught” after losing the appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. He faces extradition within two weeks.

The unemployed man could face life in jail if convicted of accessing 97 US military and Nasa computers.

The 42-year-old admitted breaking into the computers from his London home but said he sought information on UFOs.

Mr McKinnon asked the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg to delay his extradition pending a full appeal to the court against his extradition but his application was refused.

He claimed the extradition would breach his human rights.

‘Absolutely devastated’

His solicitor Karen Todner said this had been her client’s “last chance” and appealed to Home Secretary Jacqui Smith to intervene.

Our client now faces the prospect of prosecution and imprisonment thousands of miles away from his family in a country in which he has never set foot
Solicitor Karen Todner

“He is absolutely devastated by the decision,” she said. “He and his family are distraught.

“They are completely beside themselves. He is terrified by the prospect of going to America.”

She added Mr McKinnon had recently been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome and would ask for the case to be tried in this country.

“The offences for which our client’s extradition is sought were committed on British soil and we maintain that any prosecution ought to be carried out by the appropriate British authorities,” she added.

“Our client now faces the prospect of prosecution and imprisonment thousands of miles away from his family in a country in which he has never set foot.”

Mr McKinnon, from Wood Green, north London, was arrested in 2002 but never charged in the UK.

He first lost his case at the High Court in 2006 before taking it to the highest court in the UK, the House of Lords.

Computer nerd

The US government claims he committed a malicious crime – the biggest military computer hack ever.

The authorities have warned that without his co-operation and a guilty plea the case could be treated as terrorism and he could face a long jail sentence.

The former systems analyst is accused of hacking into the computers with the intention of intimidating the US government.

It alleges that between February 2001 and March 2002, he hacked into dozens of US Army, Navy, Air Force, and Department of Defense computers, as well as 16 Nasa computers.

Prosecutors say he altered and deleted files at a naval air station not long after the 11 September attacks in 2001, rendering critical systems inoperable.

However, Mr McKinnon has said his motives were harmless and innocent. He denies any attempts at sabotage.

He said he wanted to find evidence of UFOs he thought was being held by the US authorities, and to expose what he believed was a cover-up.

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