Our job is to stop crime. We’re not social services

Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe (centre) stands with Home Secretary Theresa May and Mayor of London Boris Johnson outside New Scotland Yard
Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe (centre) stands with Home Secretary Theresa May and Mayor of London Boris Johnson outside New Scotland Yard
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He is the Sheffield beat bobby who rose to become Britain’s top cop.

Today, as commissioner of London’s Metropolitan Police, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe is in charge of 32,000 officers and a £3.5 billion budget.

This son of a steelworker raised by a single mother in Brightside is responsible for keeping the capital safe – for managing 98 different departments, for winning the war on 272 known gangs and for driving down the 787,000 crimes committed each year.

He answers directly to home secretary Theresa May and Mayor of London Boris Johnson – both of whom are said to admire his no-nonsense approach.

“If we get information a crime is taking place, we don’t spend six months on surveillance, we get a warrant and knock the door in,” he says. “We are not the social services.”

Indeed after 18 months, his policy of ‘total policing’ seems to be having a marked effect. More of which later.

For now, it’s been some journey for the former Hinde House School, Wincobank, pupil who only became a police officer because he didn’t achieve the A-level results required for medicine.

Today he has invited The Star to his New Scotland Yard office to talk about that rise, which included 20 years service with South Yorkshire Police and five years as Chief Constable in Merseyside.

It started back in 1979 when Sir Bernard, then 22, became restless working as an NHS lab assistant.

“It was interesting,” says the 57-year-old, who was raised alone by mum Cecilia. “But the interesting things happened in the same place with the same people at the same time every day. I wanted variety.”

So he applied to South Yorkshire Police (“I liked the idea of stopping bullies”), and spent the next two decades working as everything from a beat bobby to traffic officer, detective to district commander.

His memories from the period stretch from the infamous - he spent the night sat with the Yorkshire Ripper after the killer was arrested in Melbourne Avenue, Broomhill - to the downright dangerous. One of the few times, he says, he’s ever genuinely feared for his safety was while making an arrest in an Edlington pub. It was at the height of the miners’ strike, and onlookers weren’t happy with the arrest. The suspect didn’t go quietly and a near riot ensued.

“People were out on the streets,” he says. “It wasn’t nice. We weren’t in control. That’s why, as a police officer, you always try to keep a situation calm.”

He insists that, despite serving during a period of notorious incidents such as 1984’s Battle of Orgreave and later Hillsborough in 1989, he never witnessed anything but professionalism within the ranks.

“It was an extremely challenging time,” he says. “The police were in a very difficult position but the force did the job it had to.”

Occasionally he says there was the odd practical joke: “I once had to walk an escaped goat all the way through Hillsborough to the station,” he remembers. “Someone was supposed to send a van to pick us up from Kelvin Flats in Infirmary Road. It never arrived. I rather suspect that was a deliberate mistake.”

Sir Bernard, who also lived in Pitsmoor, Shiregreen and Ecclesfield, had his potential spotted in his mid-20s and was selected to study for a law degree at Oxford University followed by a diploma in applied criminology at Cambridge University. He was appointed assistant chief constable with Merseyside Police.

“I left Sheffield to progress my career,” he says. “It’s a different place today to the industrial city I grew up in but I still enjoy visiting.”

Indeed, even now, he remains a loyal Wednesday fan and has a box of Henderson’s Relish dispatched to him.

He took the top job - chief constable - in Merseyside in 2004 and, over the next five years, was credited with cutting crime by a third and reducing anti-social behaviour by a quarter.

He also made headlines when, in 2006, he jumped out of a chauffeur-driven car to arrest a fleeing suspected drink-driver. All of which led him to the Met where, after previous commissioner Paul Stephenson resigned, he was appointed to his present post in 2011.

It’s not an easy job, of course. In the week we meet, two teenagers have been murdered in the space of 24 hours – one stabbed, one shot – while the force has been criticised for the continuing fall out from ‘Plebgate’.

But it is one, 18 months in, Sir Bernard is relishing. Above all, he wants to bring that same total policing to London which worked in Liverpool.

That means harassing known criminals and making arrests for the petty misdemeanours which are intrinsically linked to bigger crimes. He is, for example, clamping down on uninsured drivers – “because 70 per cent are connected to other crimes.”

Some say the tactics border on authoritarian but he does not believe so.

“I believe the traditions of the police in catching and locking up criminals are great traditions,” he says. “I am progressive when it comes to using technology but, yes, I believe in the fundamental truth that the job of the police is stop crime.”

It’s too early to tell how his methods will work in the capital but the signs are positive. Crime fell in his first year.

Now he hopes to spend six more in the post. After that? He’s unsure but he does not see himself returning to South Yorkshire. He has no family here and likes it down south. “It’s warmer and drier,” he notes.

And then, 75 minutes, after we arrive, he’s got to be going. He’s a busy man.

Today he’s meeting more of his 32,000 officers.

He pauses briefly to point at a Michelangelo quote hung on his wall.

“The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short,” it reads. “But in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”

It is not something, you suspect, that this son of a steelworker needs to worry about.