Una's blog

Una in May 2013

by Mark Rowe

In our everyday business lives we hope to make a contribution to change for the better. However, there are not many times in life that you meet people who have made a lasting positive change to our society, writes our regular contributor Una Riley in the Professional Security magazine May 2013 print issue.

Lord Peter Imbert is one such person and someone who is the epitome of what a security professional is all about.

He changed the Metropolitan Police force into the Metropolitan Police service, by introducing his set of reforms called the PLUS program, aiming to improve the corporate image and quality of service of the Met. One of the fundamental changes saw the Met renamed, and it has retained the ‘Service’ brand to this day. He has managed to culturally change an entire police ‘force’ into a ‘service’ delivery platform. As a result of his many contributions he was made a life peer in 1999, becoming Baron Imbert of New Romney in the county of Kent and created Deputy Lord Lieutenant of London in 1994, and Lord Lieutenant in 1998, an office he held until 2008. In the same year he was appointed a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (CVO) in the New Year Honours List. His post-nominal letters are a testimony to his career as police officer, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, international businessman and charity supporter. He is one of the most self-effacing men I have met and is quick to profile other people and put them in the spotlight and stand back. I first attempted to interview Lord Imbert some years ago after he had been elected to become the founder Master of the Guild of Security Professionals in 1999. We were very proud to have him as the first Master; although due to ill health at the time he was unable to fulfil that particular role. However, once he was fit enough to become involved he was able to support the Guild as it progressed to become the WCoSP, Worshipful Company of Security Professionals. As a result Lord Imbert was rightly made an Honorary Liveryman for his contribution to the Company.

At the time of the former interview it became clear that it would take a book to narrate just some of the accomplishments that this man had achieved. At the former interview I had around 4000 words and I had only covered his first meeting as a young officer arriving for his initial interview with his new commander. His account was hilarious; en route to the meeting he had lost his new police helmet and grabbed one off a coat hook just before stepping into the office as the newest recruit … the problem was the helmet was huge and when he put it on it fell past his ears! His account was both hilarious and inspirational to any young officer thinking of starting a career in the world’s most respected service. He also spoke about his first time in New Scotland Yard when he was walking along the corridor on the fifth floor where all the portraits of the former Metropolitan Commissioners are hung, in stately fashion. He recalled that as he walked along the hall as a young officer, he said to himself: ‘One day my portrait will be up there,’ and of course it is. He is a great tale-teller and has the most infectious mischievous laugh you might have the occasion to hear. However, there is the serious side of business that he has certainly had to contend with during his police career.

I asked him what was the most stand-out moment for him during his time in the Met. Lord Imbert replied: “For me they were all stand-out moments.” He chuckled and then said: “It is amazing how many people still remember Balcombe Street. In fact I had an email yesterday from one of my former colleagues who has now turned to writing thrillers. In his new book he is writing a piece about negotiating and he remembers me as the negotiator at Balcombe Street.” I enquired about the events leading up to that siege. Lord Imbert went on to explain the background. He described how in 1974 and 1975 London was subjected to a 14-month campaign by the Provisional IRA, including gun and bomb attacks. In the capital bombs exploded, killing 35 people and injuring many more. There were four members of what became known as the ‘Balcombe Street Gang’ – who were all part of a six-man IRA Active Service Unit (ASU) that had shot dead a police constable, Stephen Tibble, in London. The Balcombe Street siege started after a chase through the streets after the gang had fired gunshots through the window of Scott’s Restaurant in Mount Street, Mayfair. They had thrown a bomb through the restaurant window a few weeks before on November 12, 1975, killing one person and injuring 15 others. The Metropolitan Police Bomb Squad had detected a pattern of behaviour that identified an MO of attacking some of the sites they had previously visited. So it was not long before the four IRA men were spotted as they slowed to a halt outside Scott’s once again and took aim and fired from their stolen car. A chase proceeded and the ‘gang’ ended up in a flat at 22b Balcombe Street, taking its two residents as hostages. The men demanded a plane to fly them and their hostages to Ireland. Scotland Yard refused, creating a six-day stand-off between the men and the police. Peter Imbert was the chief police negotiator and the situation ended peacefully with no lives lost and the terrorists under arrest. A book, The Road To Balcombe Street, by Dr Steven Moysey, was reviewed in the September 2008 issue of Professional Security.

Next month, finishing her feature on Lord Imbert, Una promises us the PLUS factor, ‘fly on the wall’, and international business.

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