Guardian : Scotland Yard's top troubleshooter faces his biggest challenge

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Scotland Yard's top troubleshooter faces his biggest challenge

John Yates will need all his experience to overcome the conflicts within the various strands of the security services

Sandra Laville and Richard Norton Taylor | April 9, 2009

Assistant commissioner John Yates has a habit of stepping in to save Scotland Yard when it is in crisis.

He was there after the Jean Charles de Menezes inquest, at the side of Sir Paul Stephenson when he admitted his force had failed for years in rape investigations, and a voice of experience and reason in the aftermath of the Damian Green arrest.

This time, however, Yates has taken on a task that could be fraught with difficulties. The counterterrorism command in Scotland Yard has always seen itself as apart and above the rest, a force within a force that never liked being asked to be accountable.

Yates, one of the Metropolitan police's most talented and intelligent senior officers, will need to utilise every skill he has to survive and thrive in his new role.

Few doubt that he will take on the brief expertly. In the past he has dealt with some of the trickiest investigations an officer could have faced; the Paul Burrell inquiry, and the investigation into cash for honours, where Yates stood up to New Labour, showing a broad back and a determination not to be influenced or pressured.

A source at a meeting involving Whitehall officials and the policing sector said his inter-agency politics was near perfect. He is savvy, clever and political.

He will need to be, too, when dealing with the many agencies involved in the counterterrorism brief. Despite the apparently harmonious merger of MI5, Special Branch and the Met's anti-terrorist teams, there are still deep historic differences and tensions in the way these groups operate.

For Bob Quick, his clumsy and careless breach of security in carrying open documents into Downing Street in full view of photographers was perhaps the biggest crime in the book for MI5. The leaking, briefing or exposing of top security information is seen as the ultimate offence for those in the security agencies – and when it is the top man doing it, there was nothing that was going to save him.

Those within the agencies would have made sure his position was untenable, closely followed by the withdrawal of support from all political parties and senior figures in Scotland Yard.

With Quick gone, Yates can rise above these tensions. Whereas the police – often under pressure from politicians – are inclined to want to move in and arrest speedily, counter-intelligence officers naturally want to hold back for as long as possible and gather more and more intelligence. These conflicting cultures have to be brought together to operate seamlessly at a time when the security threat, Whitehall sources still insist, is severe.