Special Patrol Group

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The Special Patrol Group (SPG) was a unit of Greater London's Metropolitan Police Service, responsible for providing a centrally-based mobile capability for combating serious public disorder and crime that could not be dealt with by local divisions.[1]

The SPG was active from 1961 to 12 January 1987, being replaced by the Territorial Support Group.

History[edit]

The SPG recruited experienced officers capable of working as disciplined teams, either in uniform or in plain clothes preventing public disorder, targeting areas of serious crime, carrying out stop and searches, or providing a response to terrorist threats. It also conducted its own surveillance and was tasked with reducing the problem of burglaries. During the time it was active it had a dedicated radio channel and a fleet of vans to allow it to work independently of routine divisions. In the early 1980s these were mainly green Ford Transit vans. At the time the bulk of Metropolitan Police vans were painted blue and thus the SPG vans were distinctive.

The SPG originally consisted of four units based throughout London. This was increased to six and finally to eight. Each unit was made up of an inspector, three sergeants and thirty constables.

Its position within the Metropolitan Police was unusual; whereas the Flying Squad became the symbol of the Criminal Investigation Department in London, the SPG became recognised as a unit that efficient uniformed officers could aspire to join. As such it had an exceptionally high level of esprit de corps.

Other police forces outside London created their own versions of the Special Patrol Group. The Greater Manchester Police created the Tactical Aid Group (TAG) in 1977. The Merseyside Police formed the Task Force in 1974 which was later disbanded in 1978 and replaced with the Operational Support Division (OSD).

Controversy[edit]

One of the SPG's most controversial incidents came in 1979, while officers were policing a protest by the Anti-Nazi League in Southall. During a running battle, demonstrator Blair Peach was struck on the head; at the time it was alleged to have been an action of the SPG. In the inquiries which followed, a variety of unauthorised weapons were found in the possession of SPG officers, including baseball bats, crowbars and sledgehammers.

No SPG officer was ever charged with the attack, although later, an internal report was leaked which stated that the Metropolitan Police paid an out of court settlement to Peach's family. The original Metropolitan police report, eventually officially published on 27 April 2010, concluded that the fatal blow that killed the anti-racism activist was probably made by a police officer. It is thought that the weapon would have been a police radio or lead-weighted cosh is thought to have caused Peach's fatal injuries.[2] The internal report also concluded that some officers had conspired to cover up the truth surrounding the death of the special needs teacher.

In popular culture[edit]

The SPG is caricatured in Michael de Larrabeiti's The Borrible Trilogy novels as the SBG, the Special Borrible Group, which is charged with destroying the way of life of those who will not conform to society's norms.

The SPG was a frequent butt of jokes on Not the Nine O'Clock News, including a sketch called "Constable Savage" where Rowan Atkinson criticises a racist police officer with the conclusion "There's no room for men like you in my force, Savage. I'm transferring you to the SPG".

In 1982, a destructive hamster was named "Special Patrol Group" by its owner, the punk character Vyvyan in the BBC sitcom The Young Ones.

Punk band The Exploited wrote the song "S.P.G" in response to the acts of the group at the time, and also in reference to an incident in which singer and author of the song Wattie Buchan was allegedly arrested by the SPG for violence at a demonstration. The song can be found on the 1981 album Punks Not Dead. Reggae poet Linton Kwesi Johnson dedicated his song "Reggae Fi Peach" (Album: Bass Culture) to the death of Blair Peach. The SPG is also mentioned in his poem "All Wi Doin is Defendin", in which he states that they "will fall". Punk band Spasmodic Caress also wrote a song entitled "S.P.G", specifically about their role in the death of Blair Peach.[3]

Other references[edit]

  • Charlie Mortdecai, in Kyril Bonfiglioli's series of novels, has an uncomfortable run-in with the SPG, although he does get his revenge.
  • Mentioned in The Oppressed song "Work Together".
  • Mentioned in the Nick Lowe song "Half a Boy & Half a Man".
  • Mentioned in the The Exploited song "S.P.G".
  • Mentioned in the Desperate Bicycles song "Advice On Arrest".
  • Mentioned in the Jonathan Coe novel The Rotters' Club, when one of the characters has a run-in with the SPG during a march.
  • Mentioned by the NWOBHM band Sledgehammer in their song "1984".
  • Mentioned in The Pop Group song "Justice".
  • Mentioned in The Chancers' song "All dead now"
  • Mentioned by 'Arthur Daley' in the Minder Episode "Diamonds Are a Girls Worst Enemy"

References[edit]

External links[edit]