Boris Johnson ally out of running for top NCA job amid cronyism row

Downing Street’s attempt to shoehorn Bernard Hogan-Howe into a plum job leading the National Crime Agency (NCA) has ended in failure as the former Metropolitan police chief has pulled out of the running amid a bitter cronyism row.

No 10 had the selection process restarted earlier this year after an expert panel failed to choose Lord Hogan-Howe, who became a vocal supporter of Boris Johnson after leaving the Met in 2017.

The job was readvertised, and several sources have said Hogan-Howe decided not to apply again.

Interviews began this week for the rerun process to select a director general of the NCA, one of Britain’s most important crime-fighting agencies. Candidates include the head of Police Scotland and the leader of Britain’s police chiefs.

The saga will raise concerns about Downing Street’s conduct. While it does not have any formal role in filling the £223,000-a-year NCA post, Whitehall sources confirmed that it intervened in the original process.

Then a panel decided Graeme Biggar, the acting head of the NCA, and Neil Basu, the former head of counter-terrorism, were “appointable” but Hogan-Howe was not, a finding that surprised many in policing.

Downing Street’s intervention came very late in the original process. Biggar and Basu had held their “fireside” chats with the home secretary, Priti Patel, who officially makes the choice.

Basu was so outraged by the corruption of the process that he decided not to reapply. If chosen he would have been the first person from a minority ethnic background to get one of the top jobs in law enforcement

The debacle has strong echoes of the Johnson regime’s bungled attempt to get Paul Dacre installed as chair of the media regulator Ofcom. The former Daily Mail editor applied, was not selected by an expert panel, the process was scrapped and rerun, and Dacre decided to pull out.

Hogan-Howe was commissioner of the Met from 2011 to 2017, and is credited with quelling a civil war among top officers at Britain’s biggest force, and by people with being an effective leader.

But his candidacy to lead the NCA caused outrage among others because he was commissioner when the Met fell for claims from a lying fantasist about a supposed establishment paedophile ring. It led to the Met raiding the homes of the former home secretary Leon Brittan and the military hero Lord Bramall.

Hogan-Howe apologised to victims of the Operation Midland investigation into alleged paedophile rings after an independent review he ordered uncovered serious failings.

Downing Street’s intervention has extended the time the NCA has been without a permanent leader. It was in September last year that Lynne Owens stood down as director general.

The readvertising of the NCA job led to new candidates applying, several of whom were sifted out without going before a panel. Among those still in the running and who will be interviewed is Iain Livingstone, the chief constable of Police Scotland, the UK’s second biggest force. For some he is now the frontrunner.

Shaun Sawyer, the veteran head of Devon and Cornwall police, will also be interviewed. He failed to get an interview when he applied to be Met commissioner, but did make it to the final two to be chief inspector of constabulary.

Also through to the interview stage is Martin Hewitt, the chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, a role he leaves next March.

Biggar remains in the running and is also through to the interview stage.

Johnson came to know Hogan-Howe while the former was mayor of London. In 2019 Hogan-Howe endorsed Johnson’s candidacy for Conservative leader. He described Johnson as “incredibly” effective and said: “I found him to be loyal, honourable and he did what he promised to do.”

The top job in the NCA is a senior civil service role equivalent to that of a permanent secretary. The NCA leads the fight against serious and organised crime.

The Home Office declined to discuss the selection process. A spokesperson said: “A fair and open recruitment campaign is under way to make the best possible appointment to this vital role. Recent events have demonstrated how pivotal the NCA is in protecting the public from organised crime and national security threats.”


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