ABU DHABI // The man in charge of overseeing police operations in much of Britain has agreed to undertake a comprehensive review of policing in the UAE, the British embassy in Abu Dhabi has confirmed. Sir Ronnie Flanagan, the British government's senior adviser on policing and a former chief constable in Northern Ireland, has been appointed as a strategic adviser to Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, the Minister of Interior, the embassy said.
Originally considered one of the front-runners to become the next commissioner of the Metropolitan Police in London, Sir Ronnie, 59, surprised colleagues last year when he informed the British home secretary, Jacqui Smith, that he would be leaving his job as Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary, a post that involves supervising the operations of all police forces in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
"Ronnie is one of the shrewdest coppers around," said a colleague who has been involved in his work both in Northern Ireland and London. "Inevitably, when he was in Ulster, he attracted a lot of flak, particularly from nationalist politicians. But he did a remarkable job there after the Good Friday agreement, particularly in overseeing the transition from the RUC to its successor force, the Police Service of Northern Ireland."
As chief constable, Sir Ronnie transformed the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) into the much broader-based Police Service of Northern Ireland after the 1998 peace accord between nationalist and loyalist factions. Sir Ronnie, who was knighted a decade ago and never uses the name Ronald, left Northern Ireland in 2002 to join HM Inspectorate of Constabulary, and was asked by the British government three years later to go to southern Iraq to produce recommendations on reforming the police operations there. In February last year, he published a comprehensive review of police operations throughout Britain, excluding Scotland, proposing a string of far-reaching changes in police operations, which the government has since accepted in its entirety.
In December, he completed an inquiry into allegations that Sir Ian Blair, the former head of London's Metropolitan Police, played a part in the award of £3 million (Dh16m) in government contracts to a close personal friend. Ms Smith paid tribute to "Sir Ronnie Flanagan's long and distinguished career in policing". "He has made a significant contribution to our country," she said, "in particular through his leadership in establishing the Police Service of Northern Ireland and in his groundbreaking independent review of policing in England and Wales.
"I, and my predecessors, have hugely valued his advice and counsel and I wish him all the best in his new role." Sir Ronnie is reported to have signed a two-year contract to work in the UAE, based in Abu Dhabi. He has told colleagues that the offer to become a special adviser in the Gulf had come "out of the blue". "When he gets to the Gulf, you can bet that he will take a root-and-branch approach to anything he is asked to look at," a source close to Sir Ronnie said. "He is a very practical man with a shrewd eye for identifying what changes need to be made and how."
Ms Smith had extended Sir Ronnie's contract at the British police inspectorate in 2007 to enable him to undertake the sort of independent review of policing in Britain that he is expected to conduct when he arrives in the UAE. Among the main recommendations of the report were practical measures to reduce the time police spent on office-bound administrative duties and increasing the use of mobile technology to reduce paperwork.
He called for civilian staff to take over more routine tasks carried out by fully trained police officers and for a reduction in the number of criminal offences that needed to be comprehensively recorded. The report also said the police should be more accountable to local communities and that police chiefs should take an "entrepreneurial approach" to policing. Sir Ronnie also focused on the need to better manage risks to reduce the threat to the public and the harm caused by crime. He produced a string of practical proposals to improve and strengthen management structures and systems to enable improvements in officers' performances.
In her official response, Ms Smith said the report was "balanced, realistic and points out the great opportunities that exist for reform and improvement". Charles Clarke, a former home secretary, said: "Sir Ronnie has a proven record of operational and managerial achievement at the highest levels of the police service. "His long involvement in policing, both as an officer and as an Inspector of Constabulary, means he has been well placed to advise ministers, the Home Office and other tripartite partners on policing issues."
Sir Ronnie was born in Belfast and spent 31 years as a policeman in Northern Ireland. A keen rugby player in his younger days and, later, a senior coach, he holds a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Master of Arts degree in administrative and legal studies, and is a graduate of the FBI Academy. Last month, he was called to an inquiry in Belfast to give evidence into the killing a decade ago of Rosemary Nelson, a lawyer who worked for several Republican sympathisers. She died when a terrorist bomb exploded beneath her car.
The British embassy said Sir Ronnie did not wish to speak publicly about his new role in the UAE. The Interior Ministry said it had nothing to add to the embassy's statement. * The National