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, crime and terrorism that could not be dealt with by local divisions.[1]

The SPG was active from 1961 to 12 January 1987. It was subsequently replaced by the Territorial Support Group (TSG), some three times the size of the SPG.


The SPG recruited experienced police 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.

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). There was also a Special Patrol Group in Northern Ireland.

Death of Blair Peach[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 and died as a result of his injuries; 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 lockers kept by SPG officers at one of their bases as souvenirs following their seizure, 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 "Peach's skull was crushed with an unauthorised weapon, such as a lead-weighted cosh or police radio"[2] The internal report also concluded that some officers had conspired to cover up the truth surrounding the death of the special needs teacher.

Popular culture[edit]

Nick Lowe referred to them in his record 'Half a boy and half a man'.

'Special Patrol Group' was the name of Vyvyan Basterd's pet hamster in the 1980s BBC sitcom The Young Ones.

The third book of The Borrible Trilogy novels, by Michael de Larrabeiti, featured a parody of the SPG in the form of the "Special Borribles Group", or SBG, lead by the book's villain, the fictional Inspector Sussworth.

UK Punk/Oi Bands The Exploited and Red Alert both have songs named S.P.G.

Linton Kwesi Johnson dedicated the song "Reggae fi Peach" on the Album "Bass Culture" to Blair Peach. The refrain goes like this: "The SPG them are murderers (murderers) / We can't make them get no furtherer"

Constable Savage is transferred to the SPG in the Not the Nine O'Clock News Racist Police sketch.

The punk band The Professionals (members include ex-Sex Pistols Steve Jones and Paul Cook) refer to 'Special Patrol, Licence to kill' in early versions of their song 'Little Boys in Blue'


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