The Met: Past and present
Which cases shook policing protocol? What new technologies allowed the old bill to capture criminals? Learn more about the events that shaped The Metropolitan Police with this timeline.
Marine police formed
In 1798 the Marine River Force was established in London to tackle theft from ships docked at London. It operated as a separate organisation until 1839 when it was incorporated into the Metropolitan Police. Initially patrols were undertaken using rowing boats, but following the collision of two ships resulted in the death of 600 people a subsequent inquest recommended that the force be equipped with steam launches.
The Metropolitan Police Act defined
The Metropolitan Police Act 1829 clarified the original Metropolitan Police District in a radius of about seven miles from Charing Cross. Within a year 17 police divisions formed in these areas: Westminster; Mayfair and Soho; Chelsea: Marylebone; Holborn; Kensington; Kings Cross; Stepney; West Ham; Lambeth; Southwark; Islington; Peckham; Greenwich; Hampstead; Hammersmith and Wandsworth. Clapham; Willesden and Holloway, and Bethnal Green were added in 1886.
Detective branch established
The Metropolitan Police Detective Branch was formed after the murder of Jane Jones. Another notorious case of 1842 involved Inspector Jonathan Whicher, one of the original 8 members of the branch. He investigated the murder of Saville Kent, aged 4, found dumped in an outside privy. He suspected Saville’s older step sister, but pressure from magistrates led to the case being dropped and Whicher retired from the police; this raised concerns about political interference in police investigations.
'Black Marias' are used
By 1850 horse drawn prison wagons were commonly used to transport thieves and ‘vagabonds’ to the police cells. Nowadays police use police vans. The origin of the term Black Maria is not fully known but tradition suggests it comes from an African American woman called Maria Lee, a Boston, USA, boarding house owner who helped the police.
The police whistle beats the rattle
The General Service Whistle was employed in Metropolitan Police tests when they were pondering whether to replace the rattle with the whistle. The whistle trumped the tests and could be clearly heard at 900 yards, while the rattle could only be heard faintly at 500 yards.
Jack the Ripper mystery begins
The ripper murders occurred between August and November 1888 when five female prostitutes were murdered in Whitechapel, London. Their throats were cut prior to removal of internal organs, leading to speculation the killer possessed surgical knowledge. The murders, by the unidentified killer, were reported worldwide and there was an increasing public outcry, adding to the pressure to solve them. Despite the identification of a number of suspects the murders were never solved and stopped abruptly.
New Scotland Yard is founded
The original Metropolitan Police Headquarters were based in Whitehall Place. It is believed that the name Scotland Yard was given to the building, as it backed onto a court called ‘Great Scotland Yard’. In 1890 the headquarters moved to the Victoria Embankment, and became known as New Scotland Yard. The current headquarters with its famous revolving sign was opened in 1967. Plans are now in place to relocate to smaller premises on the Embankment.
Traffic Department forms
The first death in the UK attributed to a traffic accident was in 1896 when Bridget Driscoll was struck by a car in Crystal Palace. Concern about the dangers posed by the new motor vehicle led to a Royal Commission on Traffic in 1904. yet the first recorded specialist traffic unit was not formed until 1919. The development of the car also allowed criminals to travel further, meaning the police had to become mobile too.
Radio telegraphy catches Dr Crippen
When Hawley Harvey Crippen's wife disappeared in January 1910 he was interviewed by police and subsequently fled on the SS Montrose to Canada, accompanied by his mistress. The police then searched the house and found his wife's body buried in the cellar. Using radio telegraphy for the first time, Crippen was arrested having landed in Canada, after the captain of the ship had been telegraphed about Crippen’s presence by police. Crippen was convicted for the murder of his wife.
Sidney Street siege sparks change
After a robbery and the deaths of three police officers, two gang members barricaded themselves in a house in Sidney Street, London. With various weapons they kept the poorly armed police at bay. Scots Guards were brought in and after six hours of heavy fighting both robbers were killed. As a result changes were made to the provision of Police firearms and training. The then Home secretary, Winston Churchill attended the scene and took operational charge, the only time this has happed.
Billy the police horse excels at crowd control
The most famous Police horse is perhaps ‘Billy’, the white horse who, with his rider managed to control the crowd at the first Wembley cup final. The footbridge leading to the new Wembley stadium was named White Horse Bridge in honour of Billy.
Married women allowed in the police force
Since 1927 women were forced to leave the Metropolitan Police once they were married, this policy was abolished in 1946. Although the Women Police Service had formed in 1914 an Voluntary Women Patrols were ongoing since WW1, females didn't receive equal pay until 1974.
The Met's first black police officer
Norwell Roberts was the first black police officer in the Metropolitan Police, joining in 1967. He recalls his early experiences were miserable and marred by racist abuse from colleagues. Despite the prejudice he faced he served for thirty years retiring as a Detective Sergeant. On retirement he was awarded the Queen’s Police Medal for distinguished service. John Kent was the first black officer in 1837 and Mike Fuller became the first black Chief Constable in 2003.
The Kray twins are arrested
The Kray twins represent an underworld in the 1950s and 1960s where gangland violence was a problem in London and other large cities. Although knowledge of their crimes is well known today, at the time police were met with a wall of silence, which meant that gathering evidence was almost impossible. In 1968 the twins and the main gang members were arrested resulting in witnesses coming forward and the Krays were finally convicted and imprisoned.
The Brixton Riots errupt
In the 1981 UK recession Brixton, with high numbers of Black and ethnic minorities, suffered poor housing and high crime rates and unemployment. In April a local youth was attacked by other youths sparking a weekend of rioting. After this Lord Scarman produced a report finding evidence of the police stopping and searching black people disproportionately. The enquiry led to the introduction of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, addressing concerns about stop and search tactics.
Operation Countryman starts
This was the largest investigation ever carried out into alleged police misconduct, commissioned by the then Police Commissioner Sir Robert Mark, following an allegation that members of specialist units had colluded with criminals. The enquiry showed corruption was endemic. Allegations of interference from officers were widespread and while no convictions were made, it led to a change in working practices across the police service.
DNA used as evidence
The first case that used DNA resulted in the conviction of Colin Pitchfork for the rape and murder of two girls in Leicestershire in 1988. The crimes took place a few years earlier, but police used new DNA profiling as part of a mass screening programme; as a result Pitchfork’s DNA was found to match samples left at the scene. When confronted by this evidence, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life imprisonment. The chances of two unrelated people having the same DNA profile is one in a billion.
Regina V ‘R’
The case of Regina V ‘R’ (1991) redefined rape offences, finding that the offences could be committed within marriage. Before it was held that consent was not expressly granted by the wife, but 'implied consent' by being the wife, so rape could not be committed in marriage. The House of Lords overruled the principle of implied consent and spousal rape was incorporated into 1994 legislation. This changed police ivestigations into rape allegations giving everyone the right to say ‘no’ to sex, regardless of whether they’ve consented in the past.
Murder of Stephen Lawrence shows institutional racism
Stephen Lawrence’s murder is one of the most pivotal events influencing policing in the UK. Stephen, a young black male, and Dwayne Brooks were set upon and stabbed by white youths on 22nd April 1993. The subsequent investigation failed to lead to a conviction and was subject to a report by Lord McPherson, who concluded that the original police investigation had been incompetent and full of errors.
Criminal Case Review Commission is formed
This Criminal Case Review Commission was established in 1995 by the Criminal Appeal Act, as an independent body to look at possible cases of miscarriages of justice, where appeal procedures have been exhausted. Prior to this, it required a direct appeal to the Home Secretary and this created a constitutional concern that the person, who had ultimate responsibility for the police, had the power to decide whether a case should be referred again to the appeal court. The commission was formed following successful appeals from a number of cases from the 1970s where convictions had later found to be unsafe.
Police condemned in Shipman case
Dr. Shipman is suspected of murdering approximately 250 of his patients making him the biggest known serial killer. Although suspicions about his activities surfaced in April 1998 a police investigation failed to find sufficient evidence. He was arrested in September 1998, after he attempted to forge the will of one of his patients, who he was later murdered. In total he was convicted of 15 murders, but an enquiry attributed the number at 250. The enquiry criticised the lack of experience of investigating officers.
Soham murders launches enquiry
In August 2002 two young girls, Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman were murdered by Ian Huntley in the village of Soham, Cambridgeshire. Following the trial the then Home Secretary, David Blunkett, set up an enquiry chaired by Sir Michael Biichard. The outcome of the enquiry criticised the police for failing to share information about maintaining and sharing of records on individuals working with young, or vulnerable, people as part of the vetting process.
Emergency services respond to London bombings
On the morning of Thursday, 7 July 2005, three bombs were detonated aboard London Underground trains across central London and later, a fourth was detonated on a London double-decker bus. This was the country’s first ever suicide attack and as well as the four bombers, 52 people were killed and over 700 were injured. It led to the largest mobilisation of the emergency services seen in London seen since World War II.
Social media sees rioting spread
Between 6-11 August 2011, thousands of people rioted in several London boroughs and in cities across England. Disturbances began after a protest in Tottenham, following the death of Mark Duggan, who was shot dead following a police operation on 4 August. The riots have been referred to as the “BlackBerry riots” due to the use of mobile devices and social media to organise outbreaks; as a result the riots quickly spread across London and then to other cities across England.
UK police are dealing with an increase in international crime – from people trafficking, drug and gun smuggling, child exploitation to cybercrime, often committed by gangs, working across international borders. In response the National Crime Agency was formed in 2013 with the aim of tackling serious and organised crimes across England and Wales and works closely with international police organisations to combat transnational crime. In 2014 the NCA was asked to undertake an investigation following the allegations of child exploitation in Rotherham.
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