The National (UAE) : Poor Bungling Bob, the policeman thrown to the lions

Monday, April 13, 2009

Poor Bungling Bob, the policeman thrown to the lions

Michael Simkins | April 13. 2009

If you have a moment this week, please spare a thought for Bob Quick. A mere seven days ago, as Assistant Commissioner (Specialist Operations) with the Metropolitan Police in London, he was the UK’s senior counter-terrorist police officer. But with evidence mounting of an imminent terrorist attack, and a covert police operation to round up suspected participants only hours away, Mr Quick arrived at Downing Street to brief the prime minister: and in the mere act of emerging from his car, 30 years of climbing up the greasy pole of career progress were swept away.

Any Hollywood starlet will tell you that getting out of a stationary vehicle in front of waiting photographers is an operation fraught with difficulty if your most personal details are not be captured for global consumption. But even they couldn’t have imagined the hash of things “Bungling Bob” (as his critics have dubbed him) would make of the manoeuvre.

As he clambered out, the front page of a dossier marked Secret and containing the most sensitive details of Operation Pathway was clearly visible in his hand, and before you could say “smile please” the shutters had clicked. Within minutes newspaper chiefs were warning the government of a security breach with potentially disastrous consequences.

In many ways Mr Quick’s blunder was the sort we all make at work from time to time, and from which we hope to escape with nothing more than a severe ribbing from our colleagues. But counter-terrorism is no laughing matter. In the case of Operation Pathway the implications were severe, necessitating as it did the raid having to be brought forward.

It’s a salutary lesson for all those in the public spotlight nowadays that no detail is safe from the modern camera lens, be it a bead of perspiration, a bobble of cellulite or a stray nasal hair. Pity the poor celebrity who nips out to the shops in anything less than full glamour make-up and designer clothes.

Indeed, only last week the tennis star Maria Sharapova was gleefully pilloried in celebrity magazines after she was photographed in a party dress with a couple of stray threads dangling from the hem. Mr Quick may have blown the cover on a top-secret intelligence operation, but goodness knows the vitriol that would have been heaped upon him had he arrived outside No10 with a loose cufflink. As it was, a mere 24 hours after his schoolboy howler Mr Quick had done the decent thing, and was an ex-commissioner.

The possibility that he might learn from his mistake and subsequently develop into a better officer as a result seems not to have been considered. As in so many facets of life nowadays, something must be done and somebody must be to blame.

If I seem to have an undue amount of sympathy for Bungling Bob’s plight, it’s only because I once committed a similar gaffe myself: although thankfully the implications were less severe. The occasion was a poetry recitation competition at a school last year, at which I had been asked to adjudicate.

Like Mr Quick, my decisions that day were controversial: I had decided to award the first prize (a book token) to the girl with the lisp who had tackled an unfashionable poem by Rudyard Kipling, instead of going for the popular choice, Hilaire Belloc’s Jim. Who ran away from his nurse and was eaten by a lion, performed to much acclaim by the school joker with the spiky hair and the ready smile.

I left my scrawled deliberations on show for only a second while I levered myself out of the knee-crushing desk and chair combo I had been occupying in the centre of the hall, but a second was all it took. Eagle-eyed school kids in the audience read my musings, and by the time I reached the front, news of my imminent announcement had already spread like a virus. Like the embattled Mr Quick, I too was forced into an unseemly scramble to preserve what little surprise element was still left in the event.

The frosty reception in the staff common room afterwards left me in no doubt that questions about my competence were already being asked at the most senior level. Thankfully forgiveness prevailed, and last month I was invited back to judge this year’s contest: sadder, wiser, and with my notes now written in code. Having this time avoided any mishap, I can report operational efficiency fully restored.

So for those who were so keen to condemn Mr Quick and to replace him with an individual who may know how to climb out of a car but who has little direct experience of the murky world of intelligence, the final stanza of Belloc’s award-winning poem on poor Jim’s demise at the hands of the lion is worth quoting: “And always keep ahold of Nurse, for fear of finding something worse.”

Michael Simkins is an actor and author based in London