THE chief constable of Scotland’s biggest police force has emerged as strong favourite to become the next commissioner of the crisis-hit Metropolitan Police.
Stephen House, of Strathclyde Police, has been invited by senior Met officials to apply for the post that has been vacant since Sir Paul Stephenson resigned from his £250,000 position two weeks ago amid the furore surrounding the News of the World phone-hacking scandal.The job is regarded as one of the toughest in UK policing, and Home Secretary Theresa May and London mayor Boris Johnson have approved his candidacy.
Mr House, who left London to join Strathclyde Police, is also believed to have the support of senior Met officials. The closing date for applications to the Home Office is 12 August, and insiders said fewer than “a handful” of candidates would be considered.
The job will involve tasks such as ensuring the force cleans up its act following the hacking scandal, overseeing security measures against terror threats and safeguarding public safety at next year’s Olympics.
Mr House already has experience of major policing operations, such as the miners’ strike and the Brighton bombing. The 54-year-old Glaswegian held senior posts, including assistant commissioner and commander of the specialist crime directorate, during his time at the Met.
Rivals for the position could include officers from large metropolitan forces such as Greater Manchester Police or someone who has served at the highest level in organisations including the Association of Chief Police Officers or the Police Service of Northern Ireland
Last night, former police chiefs and police board councillors said they were not surprised at Mr House’s interest in furthering his career, and they painted a picture of an ambitious operator who appeared to have the attributes needed to succeed in leading the Met at a time of upheaval.
Christopher Mason, a member of Strathclyde Police Authority (SPA), said: “He’s amply qualified, he’s the right age, has the right experience of the Met and has the right ambition.
“He will want to distance the force from the phone-hacking scandal in every way he can, which will be a challenge, but he has the ambition to give it a go.”
Mr Mason added: “He served at a very high level when he was at the Met.
“He was Cressida Dick’s boss, the officer in command of the operation on the day Jean Charles de Menezes was shot in July 2005 at Stockwell Tube station in London, but he was on leave that day. He well understands the command response.”
Mr House, who moved to Strathclyde’s top job in 2007, is credited with taking a tough approach to violent crime in Glasgow city centre, initiating campaigns against domestic violence, sectarianism and football hooliganism and keeping a close watch on financial resources.
He has also become a leading light in the drive for a single police force for Scotland, after a hesitant start.Graeme Pearson, South of Scotland Labour MSP and former director of the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency, said his experience of policing Strathclyde would stand Mr House in good stead compared with other possible candidates within the Met.
“Being chief constable of Strathclyde Police is a demanding job. I think that, all too often, it is thought that policing the capital city of London itself is real kudos and enough to make a fist of the top job.
“Some rise up through the system without encouraging challenges. This in not the case in Strathclyde.”
Last night, both Strathclyde Police and the Home Office said they could not confirm Mr House had been invited to apply for the job of Met commissioner.
A Strathclyde Police spokesman said: “Any decision to apply for another job is a personal decision for the chief constable.”
A spokesman for the Home Office said: “The process is still ongoing. No decisions have been taken. The advert for the commissioner appointment closes on 12 August.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Stephen House is an excellent chief constable of Strathclyde Police, and this is not a matter for government to comment on.”