Crisis in leadership: will women rise to the challenge at Scotland Yard?

I am not much of a betting woman, but the leadership vacuum at the top of London’s Metropolitan Police has created something of a frenzy of interest at the country’s bookmakers.

The two top jobs at Scotland Yard are up for grabs, as Sir Paul Stephenson, commissioner, and John Yates, assistant commissioner, have fallen on their swords in the phone-hacking scandal. Two of Britain’s most senior policewomen are in the running; were either of them to be successful, it would be a first for the Met.

Ladbrokes, William Hill and Paddy Power all have Sara Thornton, chief constable of Thames Valley police since 2007, as joint favourite. Ladbrokes is offering odds of 3/1, the same as for Bernard Hogan-Howe, current acting assistant commissioner; Hill has her at 2/1 along with Tim Godwin, acting commissioner; and Paddy Power lists her and Hogan-Howe at 15/8.

Thornton was awarded a CBE in the Queen’s 2011 New Year’s honours list and is vice-president of the Association of Chief Police Officers. She had a 15-year stint at Scotland Yard from 1986 before heading to Thames Valley as assistant chief constable for special operations, later promoted to deputy chief constable.

“Thornton looks an exceptionally strong candidate,” says Alex Donahue, spokesman at Ladbrokes.

While she did not make it last time the job was on offer – in November 2008, after Sir Ian Blair was sacked by Boris Johnson, mayor of London – this time she has Johnson’s backing.

At slightly longer odds, and more controversial as a figure, is Cressida Dick. Currently an assistant commissioner, she was in charge of the operation that led to the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes in the wake of the failed London bombing attempts of July 21 2005. Born and brought up in Oxford, she is a graduate of Balliol College. In 2007, when an Old Bailey jury found the Met guilty of endangering the public during the operation, it took the unusual step of declaring there was “no personal culpability” for Dick. William Hill is offering odds on her of 4/1, and Ladbrokes has her at 8/1.

If you fancy more of an outsider, consider Lynne Owens. She is listed at 10/1 by William Hill and at 14/1 by Ladbrokes. Only the second woman (after Dick) to be appointed as an assistant commissioner at the Met, she is Scotland Yard’s head of public order policing and was in charge of security for the royal wedding this year. She trained as a detective with Kent police, where she was promoted to detective chief inspector before moving to Surrey police. There she trained as a firearms commander, becoming the UK’s youngest deputy chief constable before joining the Met in 2009.

It is sometimes argued that women rise to the top in times of crisis. In the wake of the financial meltdown at Iceland’s banks, for example, Elín Sigfúsdóttir and Birna Einarsdóttir were appointed as chief executives of New Landsbanki and New Glitnir, respectively.

Whoever is chosen for the commissioner role has a task at least as demanding as that presented by the financial crisis. My money, for what it’s worth, is on seeing a woman take the reins this time round.

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She was launch editor of the Europe-wide online community Entrepreneur Country, has published magazines for PwC, 3i, dunhill and Bafta, and launched The Sharp Edge, a magazine for and about entrepreneurs, with Duncan Bannatyne. She is a regular contributor to Thomson Reuters’ Venture Capital Journal.

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He was the FT’s financial editor from June 2005 to September 2006, with overall responsibility for coverage of companies and markets. Before becoming financial editor, he was the FT’s comment & analysis editor, in charge of the paper’s opinion and features pages.

From 1999 to 2003, he was the FT’s New York bureau chief. He joined the FT in 1988 and has also worked as foreign news editor, UK companies reporter and correspondent in Brussels and Milan.

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