Prime Minister Boris Johnson has failed twice to back Britain’s most senior police officer as the right person to fight county lines drugs gangs.
In an interview with LBC on Wednesday, the premier was asked if Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick should lead the battle against the criminal networks.
But twice Mr Johnson avoided answering the question, instead saying he regards her as a “formidable police officer”.
Referring to efforts to stop the drugs gangs, considered to be one factor behind record levels of teen violence in London, host Nick Ferrari asked: “Is Dame Cressida Dick the woman to push this through?”
The Prime Minister replied: “You’ll have known Cress for a very long time. I think she’s a formidable police officer.”
Mr Ferrari asked again: “Is she the woman to deliver on this?”
Mr Johnson replied: “All that is a matter for the Mayor of London and the Home Secretary.”
The awkward exchange comes after a similar discussion, also on LBC, in February, in which Home Secretary Priti Patel repeatedly refused to back the commissioner.
Dame Cressida, whose term in her job is due to end in the spring, has faced questions over her leadership in recent months, against a background of a reportedly rocky relationship with the Home Secretary.
This comes at a time when London is on course for the highest number of teenage murders in more than a decade, fuelled by drugs related violence, gangs and feuds on social media.
The Met has also face a number of controversies, including the security farce at Wembley Stadium where thousands of ticketless fans were able to storm the venue during the UEFA Euro 2020 final.
In June a damning report on the unsolved 1987 murder of private investigator Daniel Morgan accused the force of institutional corruption, sparking bullish denials from the Met leadership.
Baroness Nuala O’Loan, chairwoman of the panel that authored the report, called their reaction “most disappointing”.
Public confidence was also shaken when one of the force’s armed officers Wayne Couzens murdered marketing executive Sarah Everard, days after he had indecently exposed himself in a fast food restaurant.
The Met was heavily criticised for its handling of a vigil held in Miss Everard’s memory and to raise awareness of the dangers faced by women on the streets.
It has faced ongoing accusations of racial bias in its use of stop and search, with a number of incidents attracting scrutiny.
Three officers are under investigation for potential gross misconduct after athlete Bianca Williams was stopped with her partner and baby.
And in August 2020, Labour MP Dawn Butler accused police of racially profiling her after a vehicle she was travelling in was pulled over in error for questioning.
Since becoming Commissioner in 2017, Dame Cressida has also had to deal with the fall out from the disastrous Operation Midland.
The multi-million pound investigation saw detectives duped by false claims of a VIP sex abuse ring made by fantasist Carl Beech.