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The police union that turned into a wounded animal
00:44 GMT, 24 December 2012
Power: Bernard Hogan-Howe, who was assistant commissioner of human resources at the Met between 2001 and 2004, is under no illusion about how powerful the Fed can be
For decades, the Police Federation has terrified senior politicians and police officers. For example, consider the events of 2004 after an inquest jury ruled that two Metropolitan Police officers had unlawfully killed painter and decorator Harry Stanley.
The pair had suspected Mr Stanley, who was walking home from the pub, of being armed. In fact, he had been carrying a table leg.
Met managers suspended the two firearms officers pending a new investigation.
The response from the rank-and-file was swift and devastating as more than 125 firearms specialists went on unofficial ‘strike’ by handing in their weapons which, by convention, they carry only voluntarily.
The dispute – which covered nearly one-third of Scotland Yard’s elite SO19 armed response unit – threatened to spread to royalty and diplomatic protection as well as the Flying Squad, and struck fear into the Met’s top brass.
Duly, the then deputy commissioner Sir Ian Blair was sent out to denounce the treatment of the two officers as ‘shameful’ and his boss, Sir John Stevens, promised greater legal protection for firearms officers.
The Fed had shown, categorically, that it could, if provoked, cause havoc.
Bernard Hogan-Howe, who was assistant commissioner of human resources at the Met between 2001 and 2004, dealing with staff disputes and discipline, is therefore under no illusion about how powerful the Fed can be.
It is perhaps for this reason that Mr Hogan-Howe – fearful of losing the support of his staff – was initially so determined to stand by the account of the police who claimed Andrew Mitchell had called them ‘f****** plebs’.
On November 20 – despite furious denials from Mr Mitchell – Mr Hogan-Howe described himself as 100 per cent behind the officers who composed the log.
Even two days after one of his officers was arrested for allegedly writing a false email, claiming to be a member of the public who had witnessed the altercation, the Met Commissioner was still insisting that: ‘I don’t think from what I’ve heard up to now that it’s really affected the original account of the officers at the scene.’
That his position has now softened to the point that he is ‘keeping an open mind’ is seemingly down to the onslaught he has faced from Mr Mitchell.
How the Fed in London will react remains to be seen. The reluctance of senior police to confront the Fed had – until recently – been shared by successive governments.
Talking point: There is no more dangerous animal than one that is wounded – as the ex-chief whip discovered at great personal cost
On its website, the Fed boasts of forcing ministers to back down over two separate attempts to change police terms and conditions – first after the Sheehy report in 1993, and again over David Blunkett’s White Paper for police reform, in 2002.
Jacqui Smith, the hapless Labour Home Secretary, never recovered from the public roasting she received from Fed leaders for refusing to backdate a police pay award in 2008.
The mood changed when Theresa May became Home Secretary in 2010. She has forced through cuts in both officer numbers and pay and perks in the face of open warfare from the Fed.
All the old tactics – marching on Westminster, greeting Mrs May with stony silence when she addressed the Fed’s annual conference – have failed to weaken her resolve.
Indeed, many believe it is the Fed’s loss of hold over the Home Office (which, under Labour, showered the police service in ever more money) that led some Fed members to behave as they did during the Mitchell farrago.
There is no more dangerous animal than one that is wounded – as the ex-chief whip discovered at great personal cost.