History of the Metropolitan Police Service

History of the Metropolitan Police Service

The history of the Metropolitan Police Service is long and complex, with many different events taking place between its inception in 1829 to the present day.


Policing in London before 1829

Before the passing of the Metropolitan Police Act, law enforcement among the general population in England was carried out by unpaid parish constables who were elected, and later appointed by the local justice of the peace. In certain circumstances, such as serious public disorder, the army would intervene to support the local authorities; yeomanry were extensively used for this purpose before police forces developed. Because this system of policing was largely unorganised and lacked a criminal investigation capability, the novelist Henry Fielding (who had been appointed a Magistrate in 1748) introduced the first detective force, known as the Bow Street Runners, in 1753. Fielding's house at 4 Bow Street had been established as a courtroom by the previous owner, Sir Thomas de Veil, in 1739.

Fielding's force was made up of eight constables who also investigated crimes handed over to them by the volunteer constables and watchmen. Runners were identified by carrying a tipstaff with the Royal Crown on it, which had a compartment inside to store official identification and documents. In 1805 a Foot and Horse Patrol, the first form of uniformed policing seen in the capital, was established alongside the Runners, later amalgamating into the Metropolitan Police in 1839. Unofficial "thief-takers" operated independently from the Bow Street Runners, being employed by fee-paying members of the public to catch criminals and present them before a magistrate.[1]

By 1798, the year the Marine Police Force was established, salaried constables were being paid by local magistrates. The Marine Police was initially made up of 220 Constables assisted by 1,000 registered dock workers, and was responsible for preventing the theft of cargo. The London Marine Police Force is widely regarded[2] as being the first modern police force in the world, in the sense that they were not government controlled and were responsible for the prevention of crime. As such it is the oldest police force in continuous operation. In its first year of operation 2,000 offenders were found guilty of theft from the docks. This success led to the enacting of the Marine Police Bill, which made it the first publicly funded preventive police force in the history of English policing. In 1839, the Marine Police amalgamated with the Metropolitan Police to form the Thames Division, being recently renamed to the Marine Policing Unit.[3]

The new police

1850s Peeler

The lack of organization and efficiency of early law enforcement was often a source of public controversy. Because of this, a parliamentary committee was appointed to investigate the current system of policing. Upon Sir Robert Peel being appointed as Home Secretary in 1822, he established a second and more effective committee, and acted upon its findings. Robert Peel, believing that the way to standardise the police was to make it an official paid profession, to organise it in a civilian fashion, and to make it answerable to the public. After presenting his ideas to Parliament, they were approved and made official with the Metropolitan Police Act of 1829.[4]

During the early 19th century, the Industrial Revolution witnessed London becoming larger geographically and more significant economically.[5] It became clear that the locally maintained system of volunteer constables and "watchmen" was ineffective, both in detecting and preventing crime. Due to this, Royal Assent was given to the Metropolitan Police Act on 19 June 1829,[6] placing the policing arrangements for the capital directly under the control of Sir Robert Peel.[6]

Due to public fears concerning the deployment of the military in domestic matters, Robert Peel organised the force along civilian lines, rather than paramilitary. To appear neutral, the uniform was deliberately manufactured in blue, rather than red which was then a military colour, along with the officers being armed only with a wooden truncheon and a rattle to signal the need for assistance. Along with this, police ranks did not include military titles, with the exception of Sergeant.[7]

The force did not routinely carry firearms, although Sir Robert Peel authorised the Commissioner to purchase fifty flintlock pocket pistols for use in exceptional circumstances, such as those which involved the use of firearms. Later, the obsolete flintlocks were decommissioned from service, superseded by early revolvers. At the time, burglary (or "house breaking" as it was then called) was a common problem for police. "House breakers" were usually armed, because it was then legal for members of the public to own firearms[citation needed]. Following the deaths of officers by firearms on the outer districts of the metropolis, and public debate on arming the force, the Commissioner applied to Robert Peel for authorisation to supply officers on the outer districts with revolvers. The authorisation was issued on the condition that revolvers would only be issued if, in the opinion of the senior officer, the officer could be trusted to use it safely and with discretion. From then, officers could be armed. The practice lasted until 1936, although the vast majority of the system was phased out by the end of the 19th century.

During the 1860s, the flintlock pistols that had been purchased in 1829 were decommissioned from service, being superseded by 622 Adams revolvers firing the .450 cartridge which were loaned from the army stores at the Tower of London following the Clerkenwell bombing. In 1883, a ballot was carried out to gather information on officers' views on whether they wished to be armed, and 4,430 out of 6,325 officers serving on outer divisions requested to be issued with revolvers. The now obsolete Adams revolver was returned to stores for emergencies, and the Bulldog 'Metropolitan Police' revolver was issued to officers on the outer districts who felt the need to be armed. On the night of 18 February 1887 PC 52206 Henry Owen became the first officer to fire a revolver while on duty, doing so after he was unable to alert the owners of premises on fire. Following the Siege of Sidney Street, one thousand self-loading Webley & Scott pistols were purchased. In 1914 the Bulldogs were withdrawn from service and returned to stores. Lord Trenchard standardised the issue of pistols among divisions with the size of the area depending on the amount of firearms; ten pistols with 320 rounds of ammunition were issued to divisional stations, six pistols with 192 rounds per sub-divisional station, and three pistols with 96 rounds to each section station. In 1936 the authorisation to carry revolvers on outer districts was revoked, and at the same time Canadian Ross rifles were purchased in the prelude to the Second World War. In 1952 following the Derek Bentley case, when an officer was shot dead, 15% of firearms in service with the Metropolitan Police were found to be defective, leading to Special Branch and Royalty Protection Officers being armed with an early version of the Beretta automatic pistol.

The original headquarters of the newly formed Metropolitan Police was near Government, at 4 Whitehall Place,[citation needed] with a back entrance on Great Scotland Yard. Scotland Yard soon became established as a name for the force itself.[8] Once formed, the force become the third official non-paramilitary city police force in the world, after the City of Glasgow Police and the Paris Police.

The original standard wage for a Constable was one guinea (£1.05) a week. Recruitment criteria required applicants to be under the age of 35, in good health, and to be at least 5 ft 7 in (1.7m). Working shifts lasted 12 hours, 6 days a week, with Sunday as a rest day. Until 1897, Metropolitan Police officers did not receive a boot allowance.

From the Metropolitan Police's foundation, the force had relied on the use of hand rattles for officers to signal the need for assistance. In 1884 the Home Secretary invited competition from many companies to invent a "police whistle" to replace the rattle. J.Hudson & Company of Birmingham were awarded the contract for 7,175 whistles at the price of 11d each. At the same time, a competition for the contract to supply the Metropolitan Police with new truncheons was under way. This contract was won by Ross & Company, who supplied the Metropolitan Police with Lignum vitae truncheons. In 1886, during a riot between warring working parties in Hyde Park, many truncheons were damaged or broken, samples were sent off to be tested by the Royal Army Clothing Department, at a cost of 16 shillings per day. In October 1886, 900 pounds worth of Lance and Cocuswood were purchased, to use in place of Lignum vitae that was deemed unsuitable after Army testing.

Since the MPS's inception, the force has been headed by a Commissioner, rather than a Chief Constable which is the highest rank in police forces outside London. The first Commissioners to hold the post were Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Charles Rowan and Sir Richard Mayne. When Sir Charles Rowan died, leaving Sir Richard Mayne as the surviving Commissioner, Captain William Hay was drafted in to jointly run the force with Mayne. However, because the two Commissioners did not agree on methods of running the force, since 1855 it was decided that only one Commissioner would run the force.

The Metropolitan Police 1829–1900

Metropolitan Police Officers in Soho, London, 2007

Metropolitan Police patrols took to the streets on 29 September 1829, despite resistance from certain elements of the community who saw them to be a threat to 'civil liberties'.[9] The initial force consisted of two Commissioners, eight Superintendents, 20 Inspectors, 88 Sergeants and 895 Constables.[10] Patrolling the streets within a seven-mile (11 km) radius of Charing Cross, in order to prevent crime and pursue offenders.[11] Between 1829 and 1830, 17 local divisions each with its own police station were established, each lettered A to V, allocating each London borough with a designated letter.[12] These divisions were: A (Westminster); B (Chelsea); C (Mayfair and Soho); D (Marylebone); E (Holborn); F (Kensington); G (Kings Cross); H (Stepney); K (West Ham); L (Lambeth); M (Southwark); N (Islington); P (Peckham); R (Greenwich); S (Hampstead); T (Hammersmith) and V (Wandsworth). In 1865 three more divisions were created, W (Clapham); X (Willesden) and Y (Holloway); J Division (Bethnal Green) was added in 1886.

On 28 June 1830, Constable Joseph Grantham became the first member of the force to be killed in the line of duty, an incident described by the Coroner's Inquest as "justifiable homicide".[13] Other indications of the Constabulary's unpopularity of the time, were such nicknames as 'Raw Lobsters', 'Blue Devils' and 'Peel's Bloody Gang'. Officers were physically assaulted, others impaled, blinded, and on one occasion held down while a vehicle was driven over them.

One of the priorities of the Metropolitan Police from the beginning was "maintaining public order", which they were active in doing, against the major Chartist demonstrations (1839–48) and the Bloody Sunday demonstration of the unemployed in Trafalgar Square in 1887.[14]

In 1839, the Bow Street Runners, the Foot and Horse Patrol and the Thames River Police were amalgamated with the Metropolitan Police. However, the City of London Police, created in the same year was an independent force. In 1842 taking over a function formerly the responsibility of the Runners, a new investigative force was formed as the "Detective Branch". And first consisted of; two Inspectors, six Sergeants and a number of Constables.[15]

One of the first cases investigated by the newly formed Detective Branch was "The Bermondsey Horror" of 1849, in which a married couple, Frederick and Marie Manning, murdered Patrick O'Connor and buried his body under the kitchen floor. After going on the run they were tracked down by Detective Sergeants Thornton and Langley and publicly hanged outside Horsemonger Gaol in Southwark.[16]

After Rowan's death in 1852, Mayne presided as sole Commissioner. In 1857 he was paid a salary of £1,883 (a fortune, roughly equivalent to £1.2m in 2009),[17] and his two Assistant Commissioners were paid salaries £800 each,[18] approximately £526,000 in 2009.[17]

It took some time to establish the standards of discipline expected today from a police force. In 1863, 215 officers were arrested for being intoxicated while on duty,[18] In 1872 there was a police strike, and during 1877 three high ranking detectives were tried for corruption at the Old Bailey.[19] Due to this latter scandal the Detective Branch was re-organised in 1878 by C. E. Howard Vincent, and renamed the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). This was separated from the uniformed branch and its head had direct access to the Home Secretary, by-passing the Commissioner.[15]

Special Constables were first introduced by the Special Constables Act 1831, empowering Magistrates to appoint ordinary citizens as temporary police officers in times of emergency.[20] In 1834, the Act was extended to allow citizens appointed as Specials to act outside of their Parish area.[20] In 1848, 150,000 Specials were sworn in, to assist regular officers in preventing Chartists from reaching Kennington, and then marching to Westminster.[20] In 1912, the Specials were re-organised, scrapping the old system of anyone being liable to be appointed, instead they had to volunteer.[20] And in 1934, it was named the Metropolitan Special Constabulary, a name which it keeps today in its present form.[20] For a short period of time after the MSC was formed, Specials did not receive uniforms like that of a full-time police officer. Instead, they were issued with armbands which identified them as Special Constables, along with being issued a truncheon and a whistle.

The threat of Irish terrorism was combated by the formation of the Special Irish Branch, in March 1883. The "Irish" sobriquet was dropped in 1888 as the department remit was extended to cover other threats, and became known simply as Special Branch.[21][22]

Important criminal investigations of the period included the Whitechapel murders (1888–91) and the Cleveland Street scandal (1899).[23]

The Metropolitan Police 1900–2009

By 1900 the force had grown to nearly 16,000 officers, organised into 21 divisions, responsible for law enforcement within an area of nearly 700 square miles.[15]

Detection of crimes was much improved when Edward Henry, the Commissioner from 1903–18, set up a Fingerprint Bureau at Scotland Yard in 1901.[24] A landmark case for the Met in forensic investigation was the Stratton Brothers case of 1905, concerning a double murder in Deptford, committed by Alfred and Albert Stratton, in which, for the first time, fingerprint evidence secured the conviction.[25] Another important investigation of this period was that into the murderer Hawley Harvey Crippen in 1910.[24]

Along with law enforcement within the Metropolitan Police District, the Metropolitan Police also had responsibility for the policing of the Royal Dockyards and other royal naval bases between 1860 until 1934, including Portsmouth, Chatham, Devonport, Royal Naval Air Station Pembroke and the Royal Woolwich Arsenal. They also policed Rosyth Dockyard from 1914 until 1926.[26]

Before the 1970s, police forces often called for assistance from the Metropolitan Police because of their detective experience. The last case of this was when the now defunct Buckinghamshire Constabulary called upon the MPS to help in the investigation of the Great Train Robbery.[27]

In 1931, Hugh Trenchard was appointed as Police Commissioner[28] Trenchard served as head of the Metropolitan Police until 1935 and during his tenure he instigated several changes. These included limiting membership of the Police Federation, introducing limited terms of employment[29] and the short-lived creation of separate career paths for the lower and higher ranks akin to the military system of officer and non-commissioned career streams. Perhaps Trenchard's most well known achievement during his time as Commissioner was the establishment of the Hendon Police College which originally was the institution from which Trenchard's junior station inspectors graduated before following a career in the higher ranks.[30]

When Great Britain went to the War on September 3, 1939, the strength of the Metropolitan Police stood at 18,428, which was 900 officers short of full strength. Due to the increased responsibilities of the police war time, three reserve groups were mobilised. The first consisted of 2,737 ex-police pensioners who were re-engaged, a second of 5,380 Special Constables serving on a full-time basis for the duration of the war, and the third being 18,868 War Reserve Constables employed on the same basis as the Special Constables. On the same day as the Battle of Dunkirk, Scotland Yard issued a memorandum detailing the police use of firearms in wartime. The memorandum detailed the planned training for all officers in the use of pistols and revolvers, as despite the police being a non-combatant force, while the war was in progress they would be responsible for providing armed protection at premises deemed at risk from enemy sabotage and would assist the British Armed Forces in the event of an invasion. Due to these added roles, on 1 June 1940, 3,500 Canadian Ross Rifles and 72,384 rounds of .303 ammunition were received from the military and distributed among divisions. Thames Division were allocated the smallest amount of 61 rifles, and "S" Division the largest with 190. Fifty rifles were also issued to the London Fire Brigade and the Port of London Authority Police.

After staying stable for decades, crime rates in London soared during and after the Second World War, posing a new challenge to police. The chaotic conditions of the City under aerial attack were followed by crime, such as looting, black market sales, and rationed goods. This also fuelled the activities of criminal gangs who continued and expanded their activities after the war. By 1948, the number of recorded crimes in London had risen tenfold from the 1920s, to more than 126,000. By 1959 they had reached 160,000.[31]

On the night of 2 November 1952, Derek Bentley and Christopher Craig set out to break into the confectionery manufacturers Barlow & Parker in Croydon. Bentley and Craig were spotted climbing up a drain pipe to gain access to the roof by a member of the public, who called the police. The first officer to arrive on scene was Detective Sergeant Frederick Fairfax; by this time both Bentley and Craig had hidden behind the lift shaft. DS Fairfax gained entry to the roof and apprehended Bentley, but while doing so was shot in the shoulder by Craig. Upon armed uniformed officers arriving, Constable Sidney Miles was shot dead by Craig. After trial, Bentley was sentenced to death and Craig to be remanded at Her Majesty's Pleasure. For DS Fairfax's role in the incident, he received a George Cross, as did Constables Norman Harrison and James McDonald. Constable Robert Jaggs was awarded the British Empire Medal, with Sidney Miles awarded a posthumous Queen's Police Medal for Gallantry.

During the 1950s and 1960s, London was subject to many protests by organisations. On more than one occasion, police clashed with violent protesters, making newspaper headlines. The need for a public order trained police unit was realised, and in 1965 the Special Patrol Group was formed. The Officers attached to the SPG received higher training in public order policing than divisional counterparts. The group often received controversy and accusations of police brutality. Possibly the most well known of the police brutality cases was the death of Blair Peach. (In 1986, the SPG was succeeded by the Territorial Support Group which did much of the same role, but was a modernised form.)

In 1981, a report issued by Lord Scarman stated that the Metropolitan Police were having problems regarding racial discrimination.[32] The issue arose again in the 1999 Macpherson Report, which stated that institutional racism existed in the force.[33]

The official title was changed from "Metropolitan Police Force" to "Metropolitan Police Service" as part of the "PLUS Programme" in 1989, under the then Commissioner Sir Peter Imbert, following the presentation of a report entitled "A Force for Change: Report on the Corporate Identity of the Metropolitan Police" to the force's Policy Committee by Wolff Olins corporate identity consultants in August 1988.[34]

The current uniform for MPS officers is largely the same as forces outside London, apart from insignia differences. Officers on patrol are most likely to carry on the duty belt; extendible/rigid baton, Airwave personal radio, CS/PAVA Incapacitant Spray, Speedcuffs, a very small first aid kit containing a face shield for artificial respiration, protective gloves and sometimes some sticking plasters and a torch at night.

The force continued to be controlled directly by the Home Secretary until 2000, when the newly created Greater London Authority was given responsibility to oversee the force, through the Metropolitan Police Authority. The MPA is made up of members appointed by the Mayor of London and the London Assembly, and several independent members. However, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner is still appointed by the Home Secretary.[35]


Since the creation of the MPS in 1829, 2 Albert Medals, 174 King's Police Medals for Gallantry (including 33 for entering waters to save life, 41 for stopping runaway horses, and 26 for saving lives by entering burning buildings) 30 King's Police and Fire Services Medals, 4 Queen's Police Medals for gallantry awarded posthumously, 5 George Crosses, 123 George Medals (including 85 for connection with war activities), 81 British Empire Medals for gallantry, and 49 Queen's Gallantry Medals have been awarded to officers.[36]

Female police officers

When a male police officer was asked in 1916 whether women would ever be police constables, he burst out laughing, replying: "No, not even if the war lasts 50 years."[37] However, the Women’s Police Service, made up of volunteers, had been founded in 1914.[38] Female police officers first joined the Metropolitan Police in 1919, although the then Commissioner, Sir Nevil Macready, insisted he did not want any “vinegary spinsters” or “blighted middle-aged fanatics” in its ranks.[38] The female police officers were distinguished from their male counterparts, who had wider authority, by the prefix 'woman' before their rank, such as "Woman Police Constable"(WPC) and "Woman Police Sergeant" (WPS).

The first female police officer in the Metropolitan Police was Sofia Stanley in 1919, and she designed the first women's police uniform, known as the Stanley uniform.[39] Initial duties of female police officers included patrolling areas frequented by prostitutes, along with care and observation of female and juvenile detainees, deterring prostitution, helping prevent the deceitful practice of fortune telling (then illegal), and looking after women who attempted to commit suicide, which was considered a crime at that time.[38] Female officers were allowed to go into brothels, nightclubs and betting houses to observe and gather evidence of untoward behavior, but at the first sign of crime being committed, they had to call in male colleagues. They were not allowed to carry handcuffs unless instructed to by a senior officer, and were not allowed to make arrests until 1923.[40][41]

Female police officers were initially given six-day, 48-hour work weeks, and were not allowed to work night shifts apart from when on-call duties until 1973. Female officers were usually seconded to the Criminal Investigation Department, but in 1921 Lilian Wyles was appointed the first female Inspector to the Criminal Intelligence Department.[42] A policy in place from 1927 until 1946 forced women to leave the Metropolitan Police if they got married.[39] Female police officers were not authorized to take fingerprints until 1937.[39] The Police Federation, the rank-and-file staff association, let women join in 1948.[38]

The first women to receive George Medals for courage were Sergeant Ethel Bush and Kathleen Parrott, who had been separately attacked by a sex offender they were on a stakeout in pursuit of in 1955.[39] In 1969 Sislin Fay Allen became the Metropolitan Police’s first black female officer.[38] On February 1st, 1971, Karpal Kaur Sandhu, born in Zanzibar but of Indian heritage, joined the Metropolitan Police and thus became the Metropolitan Police's (and Britain's) first female Asian police officer.[43] This was before India itself had female police officers (the first female police officer in India was Kiran Bedi in 1972.)[43]

The first "Woman Detective Constable" was appointed in 1973. 1973 was also the year that the separate "Women's Department" was fully integrated into the Metropolitan Police.[38] Female police officers did not get equal pay with male police officers until 1974.[39] In 1976 the first "Woman Chief Superintendent" was appointed to take charge of a sub­division.[44] In 1977 the first female traffic officer, Dee O’Donoghue, was hired.[44] In 1979 the first female dog handler, Nicola Gray, was hired.[44] Prior to this, women were prohibited from being dog handlers since rules stated that an officer should have a wife who could look after a puppy while the officer went to work.[39] In 1995 Pauline Clare became the first female chief constable, for Lancashire.[38] The prefix "Woman" in front of female officers' ranks has been obsolete since 1999. In 2009 Cressida Dick became the first female Assistant Commissioner at Scotland Yard.[38]

Fallen officers

Between 1990 and 2010, over 50 serving MPS officers died in the execution of their duty, with eight being murdered or fatally injured by an assailant.[45]


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  • Metropolitan Police Clubs & Vice Unit — The Clubs Vice Unit is an Operational Command Unit of London s Metropolitan Police which provides advice and practical support to other units in the Metropolitan Police around the policing of nightclubs, vice and obscene publications. Contents 1… …   Wikipedia

  • Metropolitan Police Dog Support Unit — The Dog Support Unit (DSU) is a Central Operations branch within London s Metropolitan Police Service, providing trained police dogs and police officer handlers.[1] Police dogs are used operationally by the force in a variety of ways from public… …   Wikipedia