The Flying Squad is a branch of the Specialist, Organised & Economic Crime Command within London's Metropolitan Police Service. The Squad's purpose is to investigate commercial armed robberies, along with the prevention and investigation of other serious armed crime. Possibly one of the best known operations of the squad was their foiling of the Millennium Dome raid.
Formation and history
The squad was originally formed on an experimental basis by Detective Chief Inspector Wensley. In October 1919, Wensley summoned twelve 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.
In 1920, it was officially reorganised under the authority of then Commissioner Sir Nevil Macready. Headed by Detective Inspector Walter Hambrook, the squad was composed of twelve 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. The Mobile Patrol Experiment was given authorisation to carry out duties anywhere in the Metropolitan Police District, meaning that they did not have to observe Divisions, giving rise to the name of the "Flying Squad" because the unit operated all across London without adhering to borough policing boundaries.
Throughout the 1920s, the squad was standardised and expanded, and the establishment was expanded to forty 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 1000 arrests per year for the first time.
From 1978 to 1981 the name was changed to the Central Robbery Squad, but still known as the Flying Squad. They are often referred to by the nicknames the "Heavy Mob" or "the Sweeney" (rhyming slang for Flying Squad, from Sweeney Todd).
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. 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.
In July 1948, the Squad learned of a plan to steal £750,000 (£15 million in 2013) of bullion, jewellery and other valuables from the BOAC secure warehouse at Heathrow Airport by drugging the guards. Squad officers replaced the guards and pretended to be drugged, with other officers stationed around the warehouse. When the thieves removed the keys to the safe from Detective Sergeant Charles Hewett the Squad announced their presence and a violent struggle ensued with many on both sides suffering serious injuries. The 9 offenders received a total of 71 years imprisonment for what became known as the 'Battle of London Airport'.
Some of the most dangerous work undertaken by the Flying Squad is "Pavement Ambush", where police ambush armed robbers during the offence. During "Operation Yamoto" in November 1990, and "Operation Char" in 1987, this approach saw three armed robbers shot dead by police.
In August 1993, an armed robbery occurred at a Barclays Bank, in Blackfen, south east London. This made the headlines as being the first time police were fired upon by a machine gun in mainland Britain; one officer was struck in the head by a ricochet. This officer subsequently received the George Medal. The two robbers were later arrested. Both were sentenced at the Old Bailey.
In November 2000, five men set out to rob the Millennium Dome of the flawless 777 carats (155.4 g) Millennium Star, valued at over £200 million. Originally, police were unsure of the intended location of the robbery, but after months of surveillance, they realised that the target was the Millennium Dome. On 7 November, the robbers armed with smoke bombs, ammonia, and a nail gun, crashed into the Dome with a stolen JCB excavator and smashed through to the vault. The robbers planned to escape on the River Thames by using a speedboat. The police operation to catch the robbers was codenamed "Operation Magician", and involved 200 officers, including forty Specialist Firearms Officers from SO19. Some of the officers were positioned behind a dummy wall, and others were dressed as cleaners with their firearms hidden in black bin bags, or rubbish bins, along with officers in Dome employee uniforms. A further sixty armed Flying Squad officers were stationed around the Thames, and 20 on the river itself, to hamper any escape attempts. The five men were caught and sentenced on various robbery charges. The officer in command of the operation was Detective Superintendent Jon Shatford.
On 13 September 2007, the Flying Squad was involved in an incident outside a bank in the village of Chandler's Ford, near Southampton. Two suspected armed robbers were shot dead by members of CO19, in support of a Flying Squad operation, who had been lying in wait after receiving a tip off that an armed robbery was imminent. The thieves were attempting armed robbery on a G4S security van outside the HSBC branch when they were killed by the CO19 SFOs.
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.
In the 2002 video game The Getaway, one of the two protagonists is an officer of the Flying Squad.
- Thief Takers
- Macavity (character)
- The Flying Squad (1929) at the Internet Movie Database
- The Flying Squad (1932) at the Internet Movie Database
- The Flying Squad (1940) at the Internet Movie Database
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- "Armed robbers get 18 years for machinegun attack on police". The Independent, 3 June 1994.
- Yeebo, Yepoka; Adam Fresco (14 September 2007). "'Bloodbath' as armed robbers are shot dead in bank raid". The Times (London). Retrieved 1 December 2008.
- Screendaily.com: The Sweeney