Page last updated at 09:33 GMT, Monday, 8 June 2009 10:33 UK

Home Office 'shock' at Blair exit

By Danny Shaw
Presenter, The Ian Blair Years, BBC Radio 4

Home Office Permanent Secretary Sir David Normington
Sir David says the home secretary should have decided Sir Ian's fate

The top civil servant at the Home Office has spoken for the first time about his "shock" and "disappointment" at Sir Ian Blair's resignation.

Sir David Normington said Sir Ian broke the news about his departure at an "emotional" meeting.

The Metropolitan Police commissioner quit last year after losing London Mayor Boris Johnson's confidence.

Sir Ian had been criticised for his handling of the Stockwell shooting, and a divisive internal race row.

Interviewed for the two-part Radio 4 series, The Ian Blair Years, Sir David said: "We liked Ian Blair... and you had to feel for the human being at the heart of this.

"This was the pinnacle of his career and he was having to step down from it and he was obviously very upset about that."

'Triggered a row'

Sir David said neither he nor then Home Secretary Jacqui Smith tried to change Sir Ian's mind about quitting.

"His mind was pretty made up by the time he came to see us," he said. Sir Ian Blair's departure, 14 months before his Met contract expired, triggered a row about the involvement of politicians in policing.

It emerged that Ms Smith had not been told before Mr Johnson decided the commissioner needed to be replaced.

Sir David, who joined the Home Office as permanent secretary in 2006, said in law the appointment and resignation of the Metropolitan Police commissioner were ultimately a matter for the home secretary.

He said Ms Smith felt she should have been consulted about it.

The people of London overwhelmingly feel the mayor acted in their best interests
Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse

When asked if there were any lessons to be learned from what happened to Sir Ian, Sir David said: "I would hope that we won't get into that position again.

"And I would hope that there can always be close co-operation with the police authority and the Home Office, the home secretary and the mayor on the performance of the commissioner."

In response, Mr Johnson's deputy Kit Malthouse said Sir David's comments illustrated the problems caused when politicians interfered in policing.

"From their vast, comfortable Whitehall offices, they just can't see what Londoners want and need," he said.

"The people of London overwhelmingly feel the mayor acted in their best interests in seeking a change of leadership at the Met.

"Sir Paul Stephenson, the new commissioner, has brought much greater focus on fighting crime in the capital and is concentrating on what Londoners want the police to do: be visible and nick criminals."


Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair addresses the media
Monday 8 and 15 June
BBC Radio 4 at 2000 BST

Sir Ian's distinguished 34-year police career came to an end after criticism over the Stockwell shooting, his apparent closeness to New Labour, his handling of a bitter, internal race row and a series of high-profile gaffes.

Former Met assistant commissioner Andy Hayman praised Sir Ian's vision and intellect, but said he stopped listening to advice when he got the top job.

"We used to... pull his leg that you needed a trolley to bring his brain before he came in the room," he told the programme.

"He was inclusive, he would also be welcoming of people's views.

"But I think as time went on... there was an element of impatience maybe and so, therefore, you got the impression at times that really you haven't got time to sit round and talk about this."

Sir Ian Blair - who is understood to be writing a book about his experiences - declined to give a recorded interview for the series.

The Ian Blair Years will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Monday 8 and 15 June at 2000 BST. Or you can listen again online.

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