The National Crime Agency has appointed economic crime lead Graeme Biggar as interim director general following the retirement of Dame Lynne Owens.
It becomes the latest public sector organisation to face a succession gap because a permanent replacement for an outgoing chief officer has yet to be identified when the role becomes vacant.
Owens’s decision to step down after five years and nine months at the helm of the NCA followed her diagnosis with – and initial treatment for – breast cancer over the summer.
Biggar has been director general of the NCA’s National Economic Crime Centre since March 2019, six months after it was established to deliver a step change in to tackling serious organised economic crime.
Before joining the NCA, Biggar was the Home Office’s national security director tasked with leading on the “Pursue” element of the government’s counter-terrorism strategy, which effectively means detecting and investigating threats at an early stage to stop attacks from happening. Biggar was also responsible for leading on the department's work in relation to “hostile state activity” in the role.
Home secretary Priti Patel said she is confident Biggar had the qualities and experience to provide interim leadership for the NCA while the recruitment process for the agency’s next permanent DG gets under way.
“The NCA has a pivotal role in protecting the public from organised crime and national security threats, and it works collaboratively with partners in law enforcement, the UK intelligence community and across government,” she said.
“It is essential that the agency has continued strong and experienced leadership while work is under way to select a substantive successor to Lynne.”
Biggar worked for the Ministry of Defence before joining the Home Office in 2016. His roles at the MoD included serving as chief of staff to both Philip Hammond and Sir Michael Fallon for parts of their terms as defence secretary.
Announcing her decision to retire from the NCA last month – a move that is effective from today – Owens said her prognosis remained “entirely positive” but results from her initial treatment had indicated that she would need more extensive surgery and more time away from work.
She said it was anticipated that her next round of treatment would require her to be away from the NCA for more than the nearly four weeks necessitated by the initial treatment.
“Throughout my service I have sought to focus on our responsibilities to the public and those I lead before myself and I cannot, with integrity, conclude that it is in the interests of the agency to leave it with such uncertainty in leadership,” she said.
“Similarly I recognise I need to create the time and space to heal physically and emotionally without the self-imposed pressure to return. I do not feel that my working life is over and I hope to contribute again in the future.”
Home Office perm sec Matthew Rycroft said Owens’s decision was “characteristic of her integrity and sense of duty” from more than 30 years in law enforcement, which saw her rise from being a police constable in south east London to chief constable of Surrey Police.
“I have worked with Lynne on a daily basis: she is passionately committed to the fight against organised crime,” he said.
“I know that she has not taken the decision to step down lightly, but she has decided that it is in the best interests of the NCA for her to do so.
“I will miss her straightforward approach and expert advice, reflecting her very considerable experience. All of us will miss Lynne and wish her well for her surgery.”