A surprise - but credible and serious - contender has emerged for the UK’s most high-profile and testing job in policing.
I can reveal that Jon Boutcher, a retired chief constable leading a long-running investigation into allegations of kidnap, torture and murder by an ex-British agent in Northern Ireland codenamed ‘Stakeknife’, has applied to be the next Metropolitan Police Commissioner.
Boutcher, a former senior Scotland Yard counter-terrorism officer who was in charge of Bedfordshire Police for four years, submitted his application shortly before the deadline on Wednesday. He has never actively sought the role, and his name has not been mentioned publicly in connection with it, but the 56 year old was apparently encouraged by the response from colleagues and associates when he discussed the possibility.
The field of candidates is narrow, with only a handful of other people believed to have applied to be Dame Cressida Dick’s successor, following her forced resignation in April.
The former Met Police Assistant Commissioner, Sir Mark Rowley, is likely to be one of the frontrunners; current Assistant Commissioner Nick Ephgrave is also thought to be in the frame and ex-Met police detective and one-time Surrey Police and Crime Commissioner Kevin Hurley, has thrown his hat into the ring, though he is regarded as an outside bet. But as I reported earlier, a number of leading police figures, among them Dame Lynne Owens, have declined to put themselves forward, some for personal reasons and others because they’re concerned about the toxic political environment in which the Commissioner has to operate.
However, Boutcher, it seems, has not been put off.
His CV is impressive. He has held some of the toughest jobs in policing, leading the hunt for the failed 21/7 London suicide bombers in 2005 and Operation Rhyme, an investigation into an al-Qaida linked plot to kill thousands of people in the USA and UK.
After being appointed to lead Bedfordshire in 2015, Boutcher embarked on an organisational and cultural overhaul of the force - which was in ‘special measures’ at the time - through his brand of personal and highly visible leadership. He set high standards, championed diversity and recruited more Black and ethnic minority officers into the force. He became the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for Race, Religion and Belief, telling Police Oracle in 2018: “It feels to me that policing, and society, keeps failing to learn the lessons of history. We have got to make sure that, because we live in such a multi-cultural society, the race agenda retains the level of primacy and priority it deserves."
However, Boutcher, who's married with three grown-up children, has been an outspoken critic of the Government’s austerity programme, condemning cuts to youth services and policing. That is unlikely to endear him to the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, who will have the final say on the appointment after consulting London’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan.
“I’m not a liberal-hearted, lefty softy,” said the former chief constable in an interview with the Guardian in 2019. “Let us police those who want to damage our society and choose to damage our society, but provide the support for those who are caught by circumstance and give them pathways away from crime. That needs more money.”
For the past six years, Boutcher has led Operation Kenova, which has been reviewing murders and other serious crimes during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, including those allegedly committed by ‘Stakeknife’. It is a mammoth and complex inquiry which he has handled with typical sensitivity; an interim report is expected in the Autumn.
Such is his commitment to Operation Kenova, you can be sure he won't walk away from it - whether he gets the Met job or not.