Neil Basu is to drop out of the race to be the next head of the National Crime Agency and is considering filing a formal complaint after Downing Street reportedly intervened to halt the selection process.
A panel of experts said Basu, the frontrunner and former counterterrorism chief, and Graeme Biggar, the NCA’s acting chief executive, were qualified enough to be appointed to the top job.
Both were told last Friday by Matthew Rycroft, the Home Office’s permanent secretary, that they would not be chosen. Instead, the search process for an NCA chief executive would be restarted and they could reapply.
Neither candidate received a reason, either verbally from Rycroft or in letters sent to the two this week confirming the decision.
A Whitehall source has confirmed claims the selection process was halted because Downing Street interfered and favored Bernard Hogan-Howe, the former Met Commissioner and a staunch Boris Johnson supporter.
The government has now effectively blocked or deterred Basu, who is of Asian descent, from taking up the two top law enforcement positions. He would have been the first Briton from an ethnic minority background to hold either. He did not apply for the job of Met Commissioner after Dick resigned in February because opposition to the government was so clear.
Senior police officials are appalled by the developments and allegations of political interference, with one describing it as “scandalous”. NCA insiders are concerned about the delay and uncertainty in the appointment of the chief executive, who is considered the second most senior position in British law enforcement.
The head of the National Black Police Association criticized Basu’s blocking, saying his appointment would have been a ‘ray of hope’, and a labor lawyer said the government may have opened itself up to legal trouble .
Basu, Hogan-Howe, Biggar and two others were interviewed by a five-person panel of experts.
Alongside Rycroft, it included MI5 Director General Ken McCallum and Home Office adviser Michael Fuller – the only black Briton to ever reach the rank of police chief.
The highest position in the ANC is a senior civil servant equivalent to that of permanent secretary. The head office has confirmed that it will now be re-announced.
The process was halted at such a late stage that the two candidates had completed their “fireside” talks with Home Secretary Priti Patel, the last step before the appointment was made.
Government sources also said they did not want Basu to apply for the post of Met commissioner and that Cressida Dick’s contract was extended last September because they feared Basu would be the favorite to take over.
Basu, assistant commissioner at the Met, is considered by some to be a highly effective senior officer. But he angered the government by speaking out on issues such as race. He promoted affirmative action to increase the number of ethnic minority officers.
In 2019 he also told the Guardian that someone who made similar comments about the Prime Minister’s race could not be recruited into the police force. Some in Number 10 took this as Basu calling the Prime Minister a racist and have not forgiven him.
Andy George, president of the National Black Police Association, said Basu’s appointment “would have been a beacon of hope”.
He added: “Neil Basu has taken the brave step of speaking out about affirmative action to make the police more representative.
“As a result, he has been barred from two of the two most important positions and that is disappointing.”
Labor Lawyer Mukhtiar Singh said senior government officials may have gotten themselves into legal trouble: “If I were a government lawyer, I would be deeply concerned.
“An employer does not help itself when it gives no reason and that may be enough to infer discrimination.
“It seems like bad governance.”
The Home Office did not respond to direct questions put to it, but did not deny that the two candidates selected by the jury had been refused the post and that no reason had been given. given, nor denied the halting of the process following the intervention of Downing Street.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “A fair and open recruitment campaign is underway to make the best possible appointment for this vital position.
“Recent events have demonstrated how critical the NCA is to protecting the public from organized crime and national security threats. This process will ensure that we get the best possible candidate as the new CEO to provide the leadership and experience needed to move this work forward.
Hogan-Howe served as Met Commissioner from 2011 to 2017. He was considered largely successful, save for the disastrous investigation into an alleged pedophile and murder ring launched on the word of a man who was later imprisoned for perverting the course of justice. A report cleared Hogan-Howe, but relatives and one of those wrongly targeted by Operation Midland this week demanded that Hogan-Howe be denied the NCA role.