Flying Squad

Last updated

The Flying Squad (also known as the Robbery Squad, Specialist Crime Directorate 7, SC&O7, SO7, and nicknamed The Sweeney, from Cockney rhyming slang "Sweeney Todd") is a branch of the Serious and Organised Crime Command within London's Metropolitan Police Service. The squad's purpose is to investigate robberies.


Formation and history

The squad was originally formed on an experimental basis by Detective Chief Inspector Frederick Wensley. In October 1919, Wensley summoned 12 detectives to Scotland Yard to form the squad. The group was initially named the Mobile Patrol Experiment and its original orders were to perform surveillance and gather intelligence on known robbers and pickpockets, using a horse-drawn carriage with covert holes cut into the canvas. [1]

In 1920, it was officially reorganised under the authority of then Commissioner Nevil Macready. Headed by Detective Inspector Walter Hambrook, the squad was composed of 12 detective officers, including Irish-born Jeremiah Lynch (1888–1953), who had earned a fearsome reputation for tracking wartime German spies and for building up the case against confidence trickster Horatio Bottomley. [1] The Mobile Patrol Experiment was given authorisation to carry out duties anywhere in the Metropolitan Police District, meaning that its officers did not have to observe Divisions, giving rise to the name of the Flying Squad because the unit operated across London without adhering to divisional policing boundaries. [2]

Throughout the 1920s, the squad was standardised and expanded, and the establishment was expanded to 40 officers, under the command of Detective Chief Inspector Fred "Nutty" Sharpe until his retirement in July 1937. In 1948, the squad was given the designation of C.O.(C.8) for Commissioner's Office Crime 8 and was augmented. By 1956 it made one thousand arrests per year for the first time. [3]

From 1978 to 1981 the name was changed to the Central Robbery Squad, but still known as the Flying Squad. It is often referred to by the nicknames the "Heavy Mob" or "the Sweeney" (rhyming slang for Flying Squad, from Sweeney Todd). [1]

This was the era in which the squad's close ties with the criminal fraternity, which had always been a necessary part of its strategy, were being exposed to public criticism. A number of scandals involving bribery and corruption were revealed, and on 7 July 1977, the squad's commander, Detective Chief Superintendent Kenneth Drury, was convicted on five counts of corruption and imprisoned for eight years. [4] Twelve other officers were also convicted and many more resigned. These and other scandals led to a massive internal investigation by the Dorset Constabulary into the Metropolitan Police Service and the City of London Police, codenamed Operation Countryman. [5]

Notable investigations

In fiction

The Flying Squad's work was dramatised in the 1970s British television series The Sweeney , and two theatrically released feature film spin-offs, Sweeney! and Sweeney 2 , starring John Thaw and Dennis Waterman. A further film adaptation, The Sweeney (starring Ray Winstone), was released in 2012. [13]

A Monty Python sketch featured "Inspector Fox of the Light Entertainment Police, Comedy Division, Special Flying Squad", and "Inspector Thompson's Gazelle of the Programme Planning Police, Light Entertainment Division, Special Flying Squad." [14]


Flying Squad officers dress in plain civilian clothing. Officers carry firearms, most commonly the Glock 17 pistol. When in covert operations with civilian clothing, they conceal the sidearm in a belt holster or shoulder holster.

See also

Related Research Articles

Great Train Robbery (1963)

The Great Train Robbery was the robbery of £2.6 million from a Royal Mail train heading from Glasgow to London on the West Coast Main Line in the early hours of 8 August 1963, at Bridego Railway Bridge, Ledburn, near Mentmore in Buckinghamshire, England.

Metropolitan Police Territorial police force responsible for law enforcement in Greater London

The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS), formerly and still commonly known as the Metropolitan Police and informally as the Met, Scotland Yard, or the Yard, is the territorial police force responsible for law enforcement in the Metropolitan Police District, which currently consists of the 32 London boroughs. The MPD does not include the "square mile" of the City of London, which is policed by the much smaller City of London Police.

<i>The Sweeney</i> 1970s British television police drama

The Sweeney is a 1970s British television police drama focusing on two members of the Flying Squad, a branch of the Metropolitan Police specialising in tackling armed robbery and violent crime in London. It stars John Thaw as Detective Inspector Jack Regan and Dennis Waterman as his partner, Detective Sergeant George Carter. The programme's title derives from "Sweeney Todd", which is Cockney rhyming slang for "Flying Squad". Produced by Thames Television subsidiary Euston Films for broadcast on the ITV network, it began as a television film Regan written by Ian Kennedy Martin, brother of Troy Kennedy Martin, who wrote several episodes and also the second film. Such was its popularity in the UK that it spawned two feature film spin-offs, Sweeney! and Sweeney 2. In the early 1990s repeats aired on UK Gold, but repeats currently air on ITV4

In the United Kingdom and many former British colonies, Criminal Investigation Department (CID) is the generic name for the branch of a police force to which most plainclothes detectives belong. A force's CID is distinct from its Special Branch.

Specialist Firearms Command

The Specialist Firearms Command (SCO19) is the firearms unit of the Metropolitan Police Service. The Command is responsible for providing a firearms-response capability, assisting the rest of the service which is not routinely armed.

Authorised firearms officer A British police officer armed with a firearm

An authorised firearms officer (AFO) is a British police officer who has received training, and is authorised, to carry and use firearms. The designation is significant because in the United Kingdom most police officers do not routinely carry firearms, although they can be equipped with tasers. The only forces where officers are routinely armed are the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Ministry of Defence Police, the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, Belfast Harbour Police and the Belfast International Airport Constabulary.

Jack Kenneth Slipper was a Detective Chief Superintendent in the Metropolitan Police in London. He was known as "Slipper of the Yard". He was mainly known for his role in investigating the Great Train Robbery of 1963, and in tracking down Ronnie Biggs after he escaped from prison in 1965, although he had to leave Brazil without Biggs.

A firearms unit is an armed unit within each territorial police force in the United Kingdom. For the most part, the police forces of the United Kingdom are unarmed; however, all have firearms units to provide the police force with the capability to deal with terrorists and armed criminals. A police officer cannot apply to join the firearms unit without first finishing their two-year probationary period, with a further two years in a core policing role for some forces. Firearms unit is the most common name outside of the capital, while that of London's Metropolitan Police Service is called the Specialist Firearms Command, Trojan or SC&O19. Within the media it is sometimes compared to the SWAT units of the United States.

Operation Countryman was an investigation into police corruption in London in the late 1970s. The operation was conducted between 1978–1982 at a total cost of £3 million and led to eight police officers being prosecuted, though none were convicted. The initial allegations of corruption were made by a supergrass who claimed that some officers, including members of the elite Flying Squad which dealt with commercial armed robberies, were receiving bribes from criminals in return for warnings of imminent police raids or arrests, the fabrication of evidence against innocent men, and having charges against guilty criminals dropped.

Garda Emergency Response Unit

The Emergency Response Unit (ERU) is the police tactical unit of the Garda Síochána, Ireland's national police and security service. The unit was a section of the forces' Special Detective Unit (SDU), under the Crime and Security Branch (CSB) until 2017, when the Special Tactics and Operational Command was created to take over its operational duties alongside Armed Support Units.

Derek Creighton "Bertie" Smalls was considered by many as Britain's first supergrass. Although there have been informers throughout history – the Kray twins were partly convicted two years before Smalls on evidence given by Leslie Payne – the Smalls case was significant for three reasons: the first informer to give the police volume names of his associates and provide the evidence that would send dozens of them to prison to serve long sentences; the first criminal informer to strike a written deal with the Director of Public Prosecutions; the only criminal informer to serve no time for his crime in return for providing Queen's evidence.

<i>Sweeney 2</i>

Sweeney 2 is a British action film by Euston Films, released cinematically in the UK in 1978. A crime drama about the Flying Squad, a division of London's Metropolitan Police, it was made as a sequel to the successful 1977 film Sweeney!, which was a spin-off from the popular British television series The Sweeney (1974-78). Some of the action in the film is transferred from the usual London setting to Malta.

The Armed Offenders Squad was a unit of the Victorian Police tasked with investigating non-fatal violent crimes. Subject to frequent complaints of police brutality, the squad was disbanded in 2006 following an investigation by the Victorian Office of Police Integrity.

Millennium Dome raid

The Millennium Dome raid was an attempted robbery of the Millennium Dome's diamond exhibition in Greenwich, South East London occurring on 7 November 2000. A local gang planned to ram-raid the De Beers diamond exhibition which was being held in the riverside Dome at the time. The gang had then planned to escape via the Thames in a speedboat.

Tommy Butler

Thomas Marius Joseph Butler MBE was a Detective Chief Superintendent in the Metropolitan Police in London. He was most notable for leading the team of detectives that investigated the Great Train Robbery in 1963. He never married and lived with his mother. Butler was arguably the most renowned head of the Flying Squad in its history. He became known as "One Day" Tommy for the speed with which he apprehended criminals and the "Grey Fox" for his shrewdness.

<i>The Sweeney</i> (2012 film)

The Sweeney is a 2012 British action drama film, inspired by the 1970s The Sweeney, the British television police drama of the same name, but set in contemporary London. Written and directed by Nick Love, from a story by Love and John Hodge, it is based on the characters created by Ian Kennedy Martin. It stars Ray Winstone as Jack Regan, Plan B as George Carter, and Damian Lewis as Frank Haskins, with Allen Leech and Hayley Atwell.

Flying Squad was a documentary television series broadcast in 1989 on the British ITV network. Flying Squad was a joint production between Argo Productions and Thames Television. The series followed the elite unit, known as The Flying Squad. The unit is a branch of the Specialist Crime & Operations section, within London's Metropolitan Police Service.

A Counter Terrorist Specialist Firearms Officer (CTSFO) is a United Kingdom police firearms officer. The CTSFO standard is the highest Authorised Firearms Officer level in the National Police Firearms Training Curriculum (NPFTC) and was established by the Metropolitan Police Service in the lead up to the 2012 Summer Olympics held in London on 27th of July. The firearms units of police forces organise CTSFOs into teams to establish a police tactical unit.

Alexander Anthony Eist was a detective at Scotland Yard during the 1960s and 1970s. He is particularly notable for the many allegations of corruption made against him. These included complicity in jewel robberies and providing false alibis to criminals. He later provided testimony to the United States House Select Committee on Assassinations regarding the assassination of Martin Luther King, whose killer — James Earl Ray — had been in his custody following Ray's escape to London in 1968.

Chandlers Ford shooting

The Chandler's Ford shooting was an attempted robbery in the town of Chandler's Ford, near Southampton, in southern England, on 13 September 2007. Two men were shot dead by Metropolitan Police officers while attempting to rob a cash-in-transit van at gunpoint. The Metropolitan Police's Flying Squad had been tracking a gang of armed robbers from South London, who had committed a series of robberies of security vans delivering to banks in small towns and villages outside London, where they believed the police response would be slower. Prior to Chandler's Ford, the gang were estimated to have stolen £500,000 from 17 robberies. The Flying Squad received intelligence that the gang intended to target the HSBC branch in Chandler's Ford and, with assistance from specialist armed officers from CO19, planned to lie in wait and apprehend the suspects in the commission of the robbery.


  1. 1 2 3 4 "Metropolitan Police Service – History of the Metropolitan Police Service". Archived from the original on 17 April 2009. Retrieved 8 May 2009.
  2. "UK | Flying Squad: The Sweeney's changing face". BBC News. 10 November 2000. Retrieved 8 May 2009.
  3. "Metropolitan Police History – timeline 1950–69". Archived from the original on 27 July 2010. Retrieved 9 August 2010.
  4. "Cheers to you, Ludovic Kennedy: Simon Heffer on a genial study of the late broadcaster's work to expose police corruption and miscarriages of justice". Daily Telegraph . London. 25 February 2017. p. 28.
  5. Andrew Walker. The Sweeney's proud history, BBC, 17 May 2004
  6. Fish, Donald. Air-Line Detective. The Sunday Times, 18 September 1960, pages 21/22 Magazine Section
  7. Kirby, Dick. The Sweeney. Barnsley, Pen & Sword Books, 2011. ISBN   978-1-84884-390-5
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 "Metropolitan Police Service – Specialist Crime Directorate". Archived from the original on 10 January 2009. Retrieved 8 May 2009.
  9. "Flying Squad: The Sweeney's changing face". BBC News. 10 November 2000. Retrieved 21 October 2020.
  10. Kirby, Terry (18 August 1993). "Detective shot during chase after van robbery: Automatic weapon fired at surveillance team". The Independent . Retrieved 21 October 2020.
  11. 1 2 "Armed robbers get 18 years for machinegun attack on police"". The Independent . 3 June 1994. Retrieved 21 October 2020.
  12. Batty, David (13 September 2007). "Two robbers shot dead in failed bank raid". The Guardian . Retrieved 21 October 2020.
  13. The Sweeney
  14. Flying Fox of the Yard