Neil Basu is to drop out of the race to be the next leader of the National Crime Agency and is considering an official complaint after Downing Street allegedly intervened to halt the selection process.
An expert panel assessed that Basu, the favourite and a former head of counter-terrorism, and Graeme Biggar, the NCA’s acting director general, were sufficiently qualified to be appointed to the high-level role.
Both were told last Friday by Matthew Rycroft, the permanent secretary at the Home Office, they would not be picked. Instead, the process to find an NCA director general would be restarted and they could reapply.
Neither applicant has been given a reason, either verbally from Rycroft or in letters sent to both this week confirming the decision.
One Whitehall source confirmed claims that the selection process was stopped because Downing Street intervened and favoured Bernard Hogan-Howe, the former commissioner of the Met and a vocal supporter of Boris Johnson.
The government has now effectively blocked or deterred Basu, who is of Asian heritage, from the two top jobs in law enforcement. He would have been the first Briton from an ethnic minority to hold either. He did not apply for the Met commissionership after Cressida Dick’s resignation in February as government opposition was so clear.
Senior policing leaders are aghast at the developments and claims of political interference, with one describing it as “outrageous”. Insiders at the NCA are concerned about the delay and uncertainty in appointing the director general, which is considered to be the second most senior post in UK law enforcement.
The leader of the National Black Police Association criticised the blocking of Basu, saying his appointment would have been a “beacon of hope”, and an employment barrister said the government may have opened itself up for legal trouble.
Basu, Hogan-Howe, Biggar and two others were interviewed by an expert panel of five people.
Alongside Rycroft, it included MI5 director general Ken McCallum and home office adviser Michael Fuller – the only black Briton ever to reach the rank of chief constable.
The top job in the NCA is a senior civil service role equivalent to that of a permanent secretary. The Home Office confirmed that it will now be re-advertised.
The process was halted at such a late stage that both candidates had completed their “fireside” chats with the home secretary, Priti Patel – the final stage before an appointment is made.
Government sources have also said they did not want Basu to apply for the Met commissionership, and that Dick’s contract was extended last September because they feared Basu would be favourite to take over.
Basu, an assistant commissioner at the Met, is seen by some as a highly effective senior officer. But he has irked government by speaking out on matters including race. He favoured positive discrimination to boost ethnic minority officer numbers.
In 2019, he also told the Guardian that someone who has made similar comments on race to the prime minister could not be recruited to the police. Some in Number 10 took this as Basu calling the PM 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 made the brave step of talking about positive discrimination to make policing more representative. As a result he has been stopped from taking up two of the top two posts and that is disappointing.”
Employment barrister Mukhtiar Singh said senior government officials may have landed themselves in 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 it can be enough for an inference to be drawn of discrimination. It seems to be poor governance.”
The Home Office did not answer direct questions put to it, but did not deny the two candidates selected by the panel had been denied the job and that no reason had been given, nor did it deny the halting of the process followed Downing Street’s intervention.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “A fair and open recruitment campaign is under way to make the best possible appointment to this vital role.
“Recent events have demonstrated how pivotal the NCA is in protecting the public from organised crime and national security threats. This process will ensure that we get the best possible candidate as the new director general to provide the leadership and experience to take this work forward.”
Hogan-Howe was Met commissioner from 2011 to 2017. He was seen as broadly successful, except for the disastrous investigation into an alleged establishment paedophile and murder ring launched on the word of a man who was later jailed 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 Hogan-Howe be denied the NCA role.