Simon Heffer

How ID cards can liberate us

Sir John Stevens, the Metropolitan Police commissioner, talks to Simon Heffer about the fight against terrorism

On 11 September 2001 Sir John Stevens, commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, was on an aircraft heading for America. He was about to meet his counterpart in the FBI for talks about combating organised crime. Instead, crime organised on a scale neither of them had anticipated was being committed. Sir John’s plane did a U-turn over the Atlantic. The captain of the plane urgently sought the counsel of his eminent passenger. ‘I went to the flight deck to talk to them and give my advice. You could see the shock that they were going through with the closure of American airspace. The purser in particular was in a state of great distress. I think most of us realised the world would never be the same again.’ Immediately on arriving back at Heathrow, Sir John went into the emergency session of the security committee Cobra, chaired by the Prime Minister. He realised then that he faced a challenge which exceeded that presented to any of his predecessors.

At 61, and now in his fifth year in charge of the Met, Sir John is media-savvy. He is also an adroit politician. Shortly before we met — in his 1960s teak office with the blast-resistant net curtains — a newspaper had announced that he had been ‘rebuked’ by the Home Secretary for saying an attack on Britain was ‘inevitable’. We now know he made the remarks because he knew of the forthcoming wave of arrests of Muslim extremists and a half-ton of ammonium nitrate. But had Mr Blunkett been angry with him?

‘No, not at all. Two to three days later I met the Home Secretary and he was very happy with what was being said. It may have been that he was misreported. Anyone who sees us together would say that ours is the warmest kind of relationship you could have.

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