The boss of the National Crime Agency (NCA) has announced her retirement from the role after five years at the helm and more than three decades fighting crime.

Dame Lynne Owens has led the organisation as director-general since 2016 as part of a career in law enforcement spanning 32 years.

She was diagnosed with breast cancer earlier this year but said she now requires more extensive surgery which would mean a longer period of time off work, so has decided to step down.

Dame Lynne said: “Following the treatment I received for breast cancer in the summer, the prognosis remains entirely positive and I have recovered from the initial surgery well. However results indicate, and the medical team advise, that I now require more extensive surgery (a mastectomy).

“Whilst back at work I am mindful that I have recently been away from the agency for almost four weeks, and the next stage will require a more extended period of absence.

“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.

Coronavirus – Sat Apr 25, 2020
Home Secretary Priti Patel (left) has said she was ‘deeply saddened’ by the news (Pippa Fowles/10 Downing Street/Crown Copyright/PA)

“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.”

Dame Lynne started out as a constable for the Metropolitan Police in 1989 and was chief constable of Surrey Police prior to joining the NCA.

She added: “It has been an absolute privilege to protect the public for the last 32 years.

“There is no doubt in my mind that the National Crime Agency will continue to go from strength to strength.

“I remain grateful to the Home Secretary Priti Patel and the Permanent Secretary at the Home Office, Matthew Rycroft, for their care and compassion through this time.”

Ms Patel praised Dame Lynne for the “dedication and energy” with which she has led the NCA and said she was “deeply saddened” to learn of her decision, adding: “I know this feeling will be shared by colleagues across Government and law enforcement who will understand her decision and wish her well.”

An interim director-general will be appointed as soon as possible while a successor is recruited.