Met boss putting his reputation on the line
AS Britain’s top police officer, Sir Mark Rowley’s mantra is often: ‘I’m out there in the middle of it.’
This week Scotland Yard’s Commissioner finds himself in an uncomfortable spot as he faces a clamour from Rishi Sunak and Suella Braverman to clamp down on a pro-Palestinian march on Armistice Day.
But the officer sometimes known as the Met’s ‘reassurer-in-chief’ is used to pressure.
Last year he returned from retirement to lead the force at a time when its reputation had reached a nadir. ‘I didn’t have to come back after I’d retired four and a half years ago,’ he told the Mail at the time.
‘I was doing things that were more relaxing, less stressful. But I came back because it still matters deeply to me and that trumped all other considerations.’
The grammar school boy from Birmingham has spent his life in policing, joining his local force after graduating from Cambridge with a maths degree. ‘I decided to join the police when I was 17’, he said. ‘It’s a weird thing, isn’t it, because it was so clear; there was never any doubt in my mind. I think it’s about public service; the idea that what you do really matters so much to people.’
Eighteen months into the job, he was kicked unconscious by a gang of football thugs in Birmingham. He recalled: ‘I went to arrest a man who’d come out of a pub and smashed a window with a pint glass or beer bottle.
‘Things I wish I’d known: that he was on a stag night with a group of football hooligans.
‘I was relaxed about making an arrest on my own – there was another officer on foot 100 or so yards away; I’d radioed for help. If you’re scared of your own shadow, you don’t do anything. I thought: “A car will be here in a couple of minutes.”
‘But I ended up on the floor with six or eight men kicking me unconscious. The most useful thing I did before I blacked out was to rip his shirt off his back so he was running round Birmingham city centre topless! He got 18 months for GBH.’
Undeterred, he then took up a detective post at the National Criminal Intelligence Service – a forerunner of the National Crime Agency – before taking on a series of senior roles at Surrey Police in a familiar fasttrack route to Met leadership.
The 59-year-old led the investigation into the murder of schoolgirl Milly Dowler then in 2008 became chief constable of Surrey, where he achieved record public confidence levels.
In 2011 he joined the Met as Assistant Commissioner for Specialist Operations. He reduced shootings by 42 per cent and murders in London fell to a record low.
Renowned for being calm under pressure, he became a familiar figure on TV when he led counter-terrorism policing during an unprecedented period of attacks from 2014 to 2018.
In 2017, he pitched for the top job, but lost out to Dame Cressida Dick. Disappointed, Sir Mark retired a year later after being knighted for his ‘exceptional contribution to national security at a time of unprecedented threat’.
For four years he enjoyed a gentler pace of life, working as a strategic security adviser, supporting his childhood football team Aston Villa and running 25 miles a week. He also
‘Six or eight men kicking me’
published a novel about counter-terrorism with former Daily Mail environment editor David Derbyshire.
But when Dame Cressida was later forced out of office, Sir Mark was eager to return.
A married father of two adult children, he says he cares about the capital deeply: ‘I live in London,’ he said. ‘Have done for 25 years. Even when I was policing in Surrey, I was living in London. I love it. I grew up in Birmingham.
‘I like the bustle and buzz and edge of cities. London matters to me.
‘My kids grew up here and I can’t imagine living anywhere else.’ Let’s hope this weekend his officers are able to protect the city he cares so much about.