SAS Troops Stationed in London

British special forces are now stationed in London:

An SAS unit is now for the first time permanently based in London on 24-hour standby for counter-terrorist operations, The Times has learnt.

The basing of a unit from the elite special forces regiment “in the metropolitan area” is intended to provide the police with a combat-proven ability to deal with armed terrorists in the capital.

The small unit also includes surveillance specialists and bomb-disposal experts.

Although the Metropolitan Police has its own substantial firearms capability, the fatal shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, the Brazilian electrician who was mistakenly identified as a terrorist bomber on the run, has underlined the need to have military expertise on tap.

While I agree that the British police completely screwed up the Menezes shooting, I’m not at all convinced the SAS can do better. The police are trained to work within a lawful society; military units are primarily trained for military combat operations. Which group do you think will be more restrained?

This kind of thing is a result of the “war on terror” rhetoric. We don’t need military operations, we need police protection.

I think people have been watching too many seasons of 24.

Posted on January 25, 2007 at 3:34 PM67 Comments


Roy January 25, 2007 3:53 PM

Maybe somebody in the UK will start keeping a website tracking how many people the SAS kill, versus the police, versus terrorists. I wouldn’t count on the press to do this.

Meanwhile, the Metro Police are becoming more militant, trying to become the uberpolizei.

The outlook is not encouraging.

bob January 25, 2007 4:01 PM

Let me get this line of reasoning: the police killed an innocent suspect, therefore we need military expertise?

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?

Exactly what military expertise is being brought to bear here, that’s going to change anything? Let’s see, maybe the next innocent suspect will be killed by automatic-weapons fire instead of by handgun fire.

“Military expertise” is a totally bogus argument.

X-raycer January 25, 2007 4:09 PM

But these are SAS troops, special forces. Presumably they are more equipped with critical thinking skills than the average jarhead, even the average cop. Presumably they have enough “situational awareness” to realize they’re not storming Normandy.

In the UK, do military forces share domestic duties with cops, or are they supposed to have entirely different “jurisdictions”?

Filias Cupio January 25, 2007 4:13 PM

It does look like a losing proposition all around. I expect it would significantly impact the SAS’s training opportunities, so they’re unlikely to be happy.

I really can’t imagine many scenarios where it would be useful to have them so close to hand. In a repeat of the de Menezes incident, I really don’t think the SAS could have been summoned in the time it took de Menezes to walk to the tube station, even if they were based in London. (This is quite apart from whether the SAS could have handled it better.)

The SAS are good for hostage-crisis-resolution-by-force, but such situations seldom (if ever?) are in such a hurry that you need them stationed locally. There could be a shoot-out-with-terrorist-cell, but again this is only likely when the police move to arrest them, which gives enough warning time to bring the SAS in from outside London for the operation.

Steve January 25, 2007 4:15 PM

Don’t agree.

It can’t be compared, for example, with this US experience, where part-time soldiers were used for a policing function with disatrous results:

These are not young and rather jumpy reservists but highly trained members of a special forces unit. Neither is it likely that they will be used willy-nilly for policing-type functions.

It’s also nothing really new. The regiment in question has already been used in “domestic” situations – for example for hostage-rescue:

That’s hardly a job for policemen.

It’s worth noting, too that the SAS also has its roots in the LRDG.

Reconnaissance is still an important part of its remit – surveillance is also mentioned above. These men aren’t merely about firearms. They’re not a bunch of trigger-happy teenage squaddies but highly trained men with specialist skills.

Peter January 25, 2007 4:24 PM


Exactly what military expertise is being brought to bear here, that’s going to change anything?

Probably they are better at grabbing and disabling people without shooting them, or feeling the need to. I mean would you rather be chased by Royce Gracie or Dirty Harry if they thought you looked dodgy?

avery January 25, 2007 4:29 PM

Steve has a point about the nature of some military unit’s surveillance skills being different (and for some purposes superior to that of the police) but it would seem to me the logical soluton would be to train the police in these skills than trying to bridge military and police command, communications and control functions.

Theuns January 25, 2007 4:33 PM

The only upside that readily comes to mind is that I’d expect an SAS member to be less likely to react irrationally due to simple fear.

Of course, since they’re just one small unit, it’s still normal grunt cops that’ll have to deal with matters first off – so you get the best of both worlds: normal policemen reacting badly at the crisispoint, and military exuberance following after…

Ian Mason January 25, 2007 4:50 PM

@bob: “Let’s see, maybe the next innocent suspect will be killed by
automatic-weapons fire instead of by handgun fire.”

Acutually the prefered weapon of the SAS for close quarter battle is the MP5, exactly the same weapon used by the Met. under similar circumstances.

The difference will be that the next Jean Charles will have two rounds in his body and one in his head, as opposed to the 8 or so in the head that Jean Charles got from the Met.

@X-raycer: “But these are SAS troops, special forces. Presumably they are
more equipped with critical thinking skills than the average jarhead, even
the average cop. Presumably they have enough “situational awareness” to
realize they’re not storming Normandy.”

As to the first part, hang out in a few pubs in Hereford and you’ll soon learn that the “regiment” are just as good/bad as any other squaddy. They’re not diplomats, they’re not Mensa candidates they are just very highly trained soldiers. Just like any bunch of blokes you’ve smarter ones and thicker ones but they’re still people who choose the Army as an occupation.

When you send in the SAS you expect corpses. If you
want to question or try people you don’t send in the SAS. Anybody who doubts this only needs to read up on the Gibraltar IRA/SAS debacle. If you have clear targets (and I mean in the sense of something to shoot at) as you do in a siege situation, send them in. If you have any doubts about who the targets are, don’t use the SAS.

Off hand I can think of one bad guy who got out of an armed “policing” encounter with the SAS alive. During the storming of the Iranian embassy in London one of the bad guys got mistaken for a hostage. He was bundled outside and handcuffed face down on the ground, as were all the genuine hostages, before he was identified. I strongly suspect that had he been identified inside the embassy he’d be dead.
Being out in public made it a little tricky to, erm, deal with him. On the plus side they are very, very good and the good guys come out alive, often without a scratch.

Alex January 25, 2007 5:07 PM

The SAS have always been involved with counter terrorism action in the UK and have had a base at Stanstead airport for years to deal with hijacked aircraft (Stanstead is where these aircraft are diverted to in the UK). I’m surprised that given the SAS involvement with the Iranian Embassy siege they didn’t already have facilities in Central London.

Roger January 25, 2007 5:17 PM

The new Battlestar Galactica on SciFi had a great quote in the first season that’s oddly appropriate:

Commander William Adama: There’s a reason you separate military and the police. One fights the enemies of the state, the other serves and protects the people. When the military becomes both, then the enemies of the state tend to become the people.

Frozenscott January 25, 2007 5:26 PM

This is not new news. Anyone who has even briefly watched the evolving security system in London, UK will be aware there has been a special forces presence. What is more likely to have changed is the size and function.

Neil January 25, 2007 5:33 PM

If the SAS had handled the Menezes surveillance, he would still be dead, but they would have shot him just twice in the head rather than seven times.

Urban January 25, 2007 5:34 PM

There’s no way this use of the SAS is going to make any difference.

In day-to-day operations, there simply aren’t enough SAS personnel. They can’t REPLACE the police.

In “extreme situations”, the only difference they could possibly make is they’ll get there sooner. But will they REALLY get there sooner? Are they uniformly distributed around London? Do they have magical powers of dispersing traffic jams? Do they have helicopters to get groups of them to the scene? If they have helicopters, then they can avoid traffic jams, but that means the SAS troops have to be at the heliport, like firefighters at a fire station, waiting to be dispatched. And that means they can’t be on patrol with the police.

If the US were to assign a unit of Green Berets to NYC, it’d be pretty much the same thing. Either their on patrol with the cops, in which case they’re too thinly dispersed to make much difference, or they’re concentrated in “extreme action” groups and have to deal with all those consequences. No matter how I think of using Green Berets in NYC, it all ends up being theatrical, not practical.

Realist January 25, 2007 5:51 PM

As Steve indicates, the SAS are highly trained and educated specialists.

They much more self-disciplined and civilized than the “trigger happy” rubes of American “elite” forces.

Hieronymous Cowherd January 25, 2007 5:58 PM

SO19 have a bit of an image problem at the moment, de Menezes was only one of a number of unfortunate deaths:,,1981737,00.html

Its possible that publicly letting us know that the SAS is permanently stationed in London (I’d be surprised if they hadn’t at least been here on and off since the beginning of the Irish troubles) is a way of getting reassuring us. According to article they’ve had a standby team in Hereford all along (note to US readers, Hereford is about as far from London as Washington DC is from Philadelphia) – about an hour by helicopter away.

Jim January 25, 2007 6:26 PM

The police are trained to work within a lawful society; military units are primarily trained for military combat operations. Which group do you think will be more restrained?

The question is not who will be more restrained, but who will be able to respond to a terrorist attack better? I think that’s clearly the group “primarily trained for military combat operations”.

Just because something happens within a country’s borders, it doesn’t mean it’s a job for the police. Now if this unit were being used for investigations or peace-keeping, then I’d have a problem with it. But as long as they remain a reactionary force for what is essentially guerilla warfare, that’s okay.

Alex January 25, 2007 6:47 PM

Also as a note to American readers, the British Army has a much stronger record on doing policing and peace keeping duties because of the Irish troubles and our involvement in Bosnia. Also as far as I am aware most of the bomb disposal experts are military. The British Army has the ability to operate in civilian areas in a way the US Army is simply incapable of doing.

Anonymous January 25, 2007 7:08 PM

I seem to recall reading somewhere that the SAS soldiers who attacked the Iranian embassy were forced to source some items locally rather than use their preferred equipment; the ropes used for abseiling were bought locally and turned out to cause a few problems due to inferior quality (sorry no URL).
Giving SAS troops a base in London might help a little to avoid such problems in the future but I doubt it will do much good against militant Islamic bombers. The best defence against extremist bombers is good intelligence which is mainly a police/MI5 responsibility.

No doubt the bars in the “metripolitan area” of the city will soon have hopeful young men trying to pick up a woman by hinting they are part of “the regiment”.

Ian Mason January 25, 2007 8:27 PM

@avery: “Steve has a point about the nature of some military unit’s surveillance skills being different (and for some purposes superior to that of the police)”

They have the advantage that if you see one they won’t scream out “COPPER” the way a plain clothes policeman does to the experienced eye.

I apparently have a way of looking like a copper – lord knows why – but it’s a mistake that a few have made. There’s a long story involving this and the SAS that I’m not going to repeat here but if you’re up for a laugh at my expense see

Filias Cupio January 25, 2007 8:33 PM

Steve: “They’re not a bunch of trigger-happy teenage squaddies but highly trained men with specialist skills.”

I don’t think anyone’s debating this. The question is how likely is it there will be a situation in London where their highly trained specialist skills will be useful and where their arriving in 30 minutes is soon enough, but arriving in three hours is not.

Andrew January 25, 2007 10:20 PM

Exactly what military expertise is being brought to bear here, that’s going to change anything?

SAS runs a process called Selection which screens for people who are basically stubborn and strong-willed. The kind of guy who could lie in a crawl space for a day and a half, doing the necessary in his pants, to be in the right place at the right time. And then crawl in his own blood for a shot at a terrorist.

You tell the SAS what to do, and then step back (way back) and watch them do it — their way. Don’t send them to rescue hostages in a building if you mind major structural damage to said building. Don’t send them to ‘neutralize’ anyone unless you’re comfortable with brains on pavement.

That said, the SAS has been a resource available to the London police for quite some time now. With and without helicopters.

The permanent basing is probably rather prosaic. Someone realized that it’s interfering with the SAS mission — you know, going overseas and killing terrorists — to pull people on and off deployment status just to cover London, so why not make it a post?

Anonymous January 26, 2007 1:12 AM

It was the SAS that trained the firearms officers in the Metropolitan Police. And at the time the SAS complained that the program was attracting the wrong people from the Met’s ranks. Really, right now Britain has no expertise at all when it comes to the use of firearms in police work. The SAS is composed of people who can think straight in the middle of a battle, so they don’t quite need to rehearse the way regular cops do. But that ability is non-transferrable.

art January 26, 2007 3:02 AM

These are not young and rather jumpy reservists but highly trained members of a special forces unit.

Just like the highly trained members of Spetsnaz that were in charge of liberating the school in Beslan. 344 civilians dead, 186 children.

Scrumpy January 26, 2007 3:08 AM


This documentary had some very interesting research on the Harry Stanley case,

With regards to Menezes, my understanding was that communication was the biggest flaw in the system. Perhaps the SAS will do a bit better in this respect, they may even have communications equipment that works on the underground.

Improved Police training and equipment would seem the better solution to me. I have a feeling that the SAS wont be used any more than in the past, but their presence is merely to try to reassure the public.

Hieronymous Cowherd January 26, 2007 3:55 AM


Ah, that’s the pseudo-scientific basis for the Gibraltar warning so beloved of our armed police: it goes something like this.

Bang bang bang.
Is he dead yet? Yes? Good.
“Stop I am an armed police officer and I will shoot…”

The Lewinski evidence is absurd. The notion that armed police suffer from critical deterioration in judgment under stress is an argument for removing them from duty permanently, not letting them off a murder charge for shooting a man carrying a chair leg in a plastic bag.

You can train stress out: that’s the point of live fire training.

It’s unlikely that the SAS’s communication equipment will work any better than anything else on the underground; the key word here is “underground”. RF doesn’t like going round corners in tunnels.

The whole thing is security theatre numero uno.

  1. The SAS wouldn’t have stopped the 7th of July bombings, because no-one knew they were going to happen. That’ll be because that’s the way terrorists operate.

2 They’re not exactly going to be much use a visible deterrent as the SAS is notoriously touchy about secrecy.

3 The SAS have a semi-mythical reputation among the British people. Nothing more reassuring than knowing your elite forces are ready to defend your interests the next time a gang of red mercury-wielding jebella-wearing terrorists take over a school bus or whatever else happened on 24 last week. Less useful against a bunch of disaffected Brits with bombs made from chapati flour who are – quite litereally – goen after the event.

4 Their utility is in raids and extractions. Given that the average police raid requires at least a little planning, the hour in a helicopter from Hereford doesn’t seem much of a burden.

@Alex, I suggest you read the reports from Basra a little more closely. We have more experience of counter insurgency yes (bit of a side-effect of dismantling an Empire that) but our hands are scarcely clean.

Anonymous January 26, 2007 5:22 AM

The move itself surely is theatre to some degree.

The SAS have been permanently based in Hereford (about 30 mins from London by helicopter, I should think), and the article can come up with just three examples in over 30 years of them being used against terrorists (I discount scrambling a helicopter after the fact of an attack – had there been more terrorists to deal with, then I would count it). One of the three was a raid on the homes of suspects, the other two were sieges. I can’t think of anything which has happened in London in that time, which demanded an immediate military response, and for which the SAS therefore would have been used if only they’d been closer.

So I don’t see how moving soldiers to the capital is going to make them much more helpful. I assume it’s indicative of an intention to use them in preference to the police for something or other, but it’s not as though it was their location preventing them being used before. There may also be a touch of “war on terror” macho posturing in the thinking of the Home Secretary.

Whether the SAS can do worthwhile things which the police and MI5 between them can’t, I don’t really know. I think it’s plausible, though. I suspect that the Iranian embassy siege couldn’t have been ended in the same way by police, because of the difference in tactical training, and because the Met police (at least at the time, perhaps not so much now since Operation Kratos and the so-called “shoot to kill” policy) would not enter the building with the intention of unhesitatingly killing all the bad guys.

So perhaps MI5 suspects one or more conspiracies to take hostages in a similar way, but on a more rapid timescale than 1980, and wants insurance against failing to prevent such a plan through intelligence. Or maybe it’s a lot about the bomb disposal experts. I imagine that teams with recent experience in Iraq might have got pretty good at dealing with home-made explosive devices.

I suppose my point is that it’s possible the SAS move is worthwhile, but only if it’s to improve upon things which the police currently do, or to defend against some threat currently unknown to the public. There is nothing which has happened in the past 30 years, or which the public could expect to happen based on what we already know, that demands an SAS presence in London.

Marine - USA January 26, 2007 5:55 AM

Hi Bruce. The SAS is well positioned for this type of activity. A brief look at their glorious and honorable past, both unclassified and classified – should suffice. Maybe start with some of the IRA ops. A shot or two of Lambs Navy Rum may set the mood.

Paul Jakma January 26, 2007 8:24 AM

Hi Bruce,

What makes you think the de Menezes shooting was not carried by the SAS? It is a matter of public record that the SRS were directly involved in the de Menezes operation (the observer of the flat was SRS according to the official report). While the MoD say the military were not involved in the shooting, it’s a simple of matter of convenience to second SAS personnel to other state organisations.

The shooting itself had all the hallmarks of an SAS operation: Cold blooded execution of a man, employing the steely ability to hold down a man for quite a period of time while a colleague repeatedly shoots the subject in the head, only inches from the restraining officer. These execution jobs are nearly always SAS: Northern Ireland anti-IRA assassination squads, Gibraltar three, Libyan embassy terrorists. Etc..

Andy January 26, 2007 9:02 AM

It’s worth noting that the SAS have been used in Northern Ireland for decades; it’s entirely likely that they have more experience of dealing with terrorists than the Met. It’s all theatre though – they wouldn’t have stop July 7th.

Anyway, as a Brit, I’d trust the SAS with a gun over a Plod any day.

@Paul Jakma – I doubt that anyone from the SAS would shoot a suspect point blank 8 times in the head. The bollocking – and piss-taking – they’d receive would be too much.

Ian Mason January 26, 2007 9:06 AM

@Paul Jakma: “What makes you think the de Menezes shooting was not carried by the SAS?”

The fact that it was clearly stated at the time that it was police. The fact that the team members involved have since been identified as killing another man in a non-terrorist incident (,,29389-2433882.html ).

Alex January 26, 2007 9:26 AM

70-80 per cent of this is crap. The SAS has maintained a reaction force for policelike incidents since the early 70s, when aircraft hijackings and hostage-taking became common. Their record is good. Spetsnaz in Beslan? Don’t make me laugh.

Why the SundayTimes felt this necessary now is the interesting question. I suspect the actual news-content is near zero.

Tuesday Morning QB January 26, 2007 10:04 AM

Nobody want’s them around, until the s**t hits the fan, and then the monday-morning quarterbacks (goalies?) ask, “why didn’t somebody think of this?”

Jim January 26, 2007 11:21 AM

they wouldn’t have stop July 7th.

Can people please stop pointing this out? Terrorists can use more than just the one method to kill people. Next time will probably be completely different. By focusing on 7-7, you’re making the same mistake people who ban scissors on aeroplanes make.

The important thing is not whether they’d be effective in past scenarios. The important thing is whether they’d be effective in probable future scenarios.

Billy January 26, 2007 11:31 AM

The SAS has always carried out both advisory and active roles for the police and other security services. One of their main but mostly unpublicised roles is as “tiger teams” testing security already in place. They will have a key role in the security planning for the London Olympics in 2012 and a team based in London full time prior to the event rather than simply being placed immediately before it makes a lot of sense. London 2012 will be a high profile target for terrorists and the this move is simply a part of the overall approach to the event. If the prescence wins that extra 30 minutes of reponse time should it ever be necessary then so much the better. Finally the police have little experience of armed reconaissance/undercover work. In Northern Ireland and elsewhere they have become specialists in this field. they are not there to do policework but to provide specialist support and planning just as army bomb disposal among others has done for years highly effectively.

Brandioch Conner January 26, 2007 12:13 PM

@ Jim
“The important thing is not whether they’d be effective in past scenarios. The important thing is whether they’d be effective in probable future scenarios.”

And the answer is that in 99.9% of the “probable future scenarios” they will be of no use what so ever.

Current terrorist practice is the “suicide bomb”. And once someone has the bomb strapped onto him and the trigger in his hand, there is nothing that the cops or military can do that would not make the situation WORSE for the civilians in the area.

Fighting terrorism in our cities is about police work, investigations and going under cover.

sleepless in london January 26, 2007 1:39 PM

@Brandioch Conner
“probable future scenarios”

now that statement makes me sleep well at night…

Zombywuf January 26, 2007 2:25 PM

The SAS have something of a reputation for being good at their jobs. This gets them a good reputation among the British people, so this move has aspects of security theatre to it. But some of the theatre is also the reputation the SAS has amongst the bad guys. I’m not saying the terrorists will go “Oh no, we will not attack London as the SAS are stationed there,” but anything that makes the bad guys jumpy is a good thing. Jumpy people make mistakes.

As for the notion of the SAS being likely to go on a shoot everyone/gas the building style rampage. Oh, it is to laugh. There have been a couple of slip-ups over the years we’ve been being bombed by various Irish groups, but no where near as many as have been caused by the police/regular army.

Given that the SAS are the standard British force deployed when there are bad guys that need neutralising quickly, it makes sense to have them as close to the most likely targets as possible. Of course it’s better that events are stopped before it gets to that stage, but sometimes you need to have trained experts on the scene quickly.

But mostly, it looks like a publicity move.

Jilara January 26, 2007 6:53 PM

Delta Force has been offering training to the police in America for a while. With it come different definitions of “rules of engagement” and “collateral damage.” It doesn’t make me feel safer to know those are creeping into the system.

dunragit January 27, 2007 12:15 PM

There has been a permenant SAS unit in London since WWII! I agree that the troopers won’t be very happy performing this role due to the fact that they are very sceptical about anyone elses INT. Lets not forget that the reason our Brazilian friend was shot was because he would not do what he was told. When I travel to a foreign country it helps to be there legally and not with a forged visa. He knew this and that is why he ran(probably used to his own country’s police, which are ruthless), if he knew English he would have known what was being said to him.

Jon Sowden January 27, 2007 2:02 PM

“There has been a permanent SAS unit in London since WWII!”

Given that the SAS were disbanded in the post-WWII run-down, and not reformed until a few years later, methinks you’re telling porkies. Furhtermore, their ‘domestic’ role didn’t start till quite a few years after that, making a deployment in London somewhat nonsensical.

Anonymous January 27, 2007 3:08 PM


“our Brazilian friend was shot was because he would not do what he was told.”

No. After the shooting, the police leaked stories that Jean Charles de Menezes was wearing a bulky jacket (implying an explosive belt), jumped the barrier at the tube station and refused to heed a police warning. Not one of these stories stood up to scrutiny.
Some of the police allegations were reported by quite reputable news sources but all the British mainstream media later retracted claims that Mr de Menezes had done anything wrong at all.

Zaphod January 28, 2007 1:40 AM


Whilst I am making no claim on the veracity of your statements, since when has Wikipedia been an authoritative source of fact?


Anonymous January 28, 2007 5:02 AM


“since when has Wikipedia been an authoritative source of fact?”

Strictly never I suppose. I chose Wikipedia because its article summed up the story quite neatly and agreed with my recollection of the event, after the smear leaks had been refuted. For anybody who cares, here are some other sources.,,22989-1739222,00.html,6903,1548808,00.html

Clive Robinson January 28, 2007 5:45 AM

@Ian Mason

“Anybody who doubts this only needs to read up on the Gibraltar IRA/SAS debacle.”

A lot of people who read about the incident through following the subsiquent court case think this.

However they are often not aware that one of the expert witnesses used did not know enough about the subject he was talking about to get through a 101 course in the subject…

In this day and age we hear it called the “CSI effect”, it has also not been helped in the past when Judges take a negtative view on defence counsel interegating prosecution expert witnesses as it might “confuse the jury”.

As has been found in the U.K. a number of “expert witnessess” where anything but and had their own agender, and in one case they where actually employed by the U.K. Gov in this role despite the fact they had failed to qualify as such on numerous occasions.


“It was the SAS that trained the firearms officers in the Metropolitan Police. And at the time the SAS complained that the program was attracting the wrong people from the Met’s ranks.”

I have had the misfortune to meet some of the Met’s SO19 officers and my assesment would be similar. They appear to have a self belife system that makes the “canteen mentality” look positivly banal / trite. In fact some reports have indicated that some of the members apear to have “Walter Mitty” asspirations

What is not as well known is that one of the Met Police SO19 officers was overheard by a journo to be somewhat over excited and used the phrase “You see those B*eds St themselves when they got the marksmans measels” shortly after the de Menezes shoting when SO19 where used to assist in the arest of other suspect terorists. The “Marksman’s Measels” apparently referes to the red points on a target caused by the laser sights.

Oh and remember that when SO19 where once told of the possibility of an enquiry into their actions they threatened to go out on strike…

Ian Mason January 28, 2007 10:50 AM


re: Gibraltar
My point was, at the end of the day the IRA suspects were all dead and I think this was was predisposed by the people used and their implicit rules of engagement (or training if you prefer). The culpability issue is one we could probably debate until the next ice age and wasn’t something I was raising.

re: SO19/CO19
I used to be an active target shooter (haven’t had the time in recent years). At meetings I’ve shot with/against civilians, army, RAF and police (both firearms specialists and hobbyists who were also coincidentally police officers).

There is definately a sub-section of British male society that has a very unhealthy attitude to the possession and use of firearms, and a tendency to exactly the attitudes you mention and allude to. It was, almost exclusively, pistol shooters (as opposed to rifle shooters) that I used to spot these tendencies in. Also it was the civilians and the police who entertained these notions and I rarely or never heard them from services personnel.

Once they’re down at the pub at the end of the day, rifle shooters tend to talk about kit in terms of accuracy and improving scores. A fair proportion of pistol shooters soon get into discussions of things like killing power (and remember this is in the context of target shooting clubs).

The possession of weapons in policing is, I think, like political power – those who most want them are least fitted to having them. CO19 members (previously know as SO19) are all volunteers. This doesn’t mean that they’re all bad by any stretch, but it is a cause for concern.

On a seperate note: In the pre-SO19 days, I once got to watch the ‘authorised shots’ from the local police station on the firing range. With them about the safest place to stand was directly in front of the target. There is no doubt that there was a real need for specialist firearms officers.

Len January 29, 2007 1:24 PM

The fact that the Times has only just learned of this is surprising, as London has had “specialist” military personell working within its boundaries for years. There are at least three Army Barracks, to my knowldge, within a 5 mile radius of Charing Cross.
The skills that units like the SAS bring to the table is the ability to think in situations that are out of the norm for the everyday Cop. Training the Cops to this level would be nigh impossible.
In order to get into the SAS you have to have at least had major experience in another regiment,and at a level that exemplifies your abilities.
In order to join the police force, you have to be over 5ft 10inches and have a clean criminal record. (I’m not sure about the last bit). In order to be able to join the firearm section of the Met Police you need to show an aptitude for weapons, the ability to follow orders to the letter, without thinking and restraint. (Again given recent cases I’m not sure about the last bit).
There is hardly ever a situation where a gun toting Bobby on the beat is around to be able react quickly to any given situation, and normally armed backup is always called for. Why not have this force being provided by a specialist group that knows when NOT to fire their weapons, rather than in the hands of the Police who are so overstretched, underpayed, and under-trained that I wouldn’t want to be in the line of fire or anywhere near for that matter. Also in response to the blogger who stated the concern for automatic weapons fire from the SAS: I believe the Met Police weapon of choice is a Heckler and Koch HK416, hardly a BB gun!

Clive Robinson January 30, 2007 10:07 AM

@Ian Mason

Like you I have shot against various civilian and military organisations in the UK as well as at several shoting clubs.

Yup what you say is true, however one litle thing you might be interested in, which supports your view,

Somebody who I wore the green with and both of us put ourselves through what was required for “selection”, he was also the sort of bloke I would trust not just with my life but my wallet as well. Both of did snipper training and both of us shot for the regiment, he however came away with a lot more silver than I did.

He ended up joining the Met, and was purswaded to put his name down to “carry” due to his past. He was quickly put on a course and had the highest score for marksmanship they had seen at the time and as far as can be ascertained was profesional in his manner to the weapons and their use.

He was not very happy about the “pub/canteen mentality” exhibited by the others on the course and confided as much to the course examiner during the course.

Both he and his boss were very very surprised at the end of the course to find he had been failed by the course examiner for “attitude problems”.

With regards Gib I was actually in the area on excercise when it happened so I had some real interest in it.

What it boiled down to was the PIRA suspects had been under obs for a period of time (supposedly by MI5) and where known to have obtained the materials to make a large bomb (130-150lb of Semtex), and more importantly radio equipment (walki talkies) that could easily have been used to remotly detonate it.

The SAS team where incorectly informed that the bomb had been placed at the Governor’s Residence in preperation for the changing of the Gaurd Parade. What in fact one of the PIRA team had done was reserve a parking space, and park a car in it.

The situation started to escalate in that one of the PIRA team was seen to be doing something in the boot of the car (an assumption was made that it was bomb arming) and a command decision was made to remove the threat by the Deputy Commissioner of Gibralter Police, who signed the document handing the power of arrest over to the military.

What actually happened next is still a mater of argument, however one of the PIRA team turned and apparently recognised that he was being tailed and appeared to go for a gun or possibly the bomb trigger. Within a few seconds all three of the PIRA team where dead or dying of multiple gunshot wounds (mainly to the body).

Much argument was made in the court cases about the ability of the radio equipment to cover the distance involved. An Irish “radio expert” claimed that it could not and produced a series of calculations to show it was not. The assumptions behind his calcultions where shown by a public forum to be seriously flawed.

The same calculations when using the correct information showed that it would be more than possible. Later practical testing verified that it was indead more than possible by a reasonable margin.

The main problem at the time was that in the effective information vacum newspapers instead of printing what was known speculated and printed a series of increasingly incorrect articals. So much so that at least two ended up paying substantial damages.

The result of the initial inquest was a majoriy vote for “lawfull killing” and the subsiquent ECJ action handed down a result that the three PIRA members had indeed been engaged in an act of trerorisum and unanimously rejected the aplicants claims for damages and costs.

Was the killing lawfull perhaps not under the rules of engagment of the time. Was there sufficient reason to kill them to prevent a serious attack very probably.

Could they have been arrested, as it turns out yes, they did not have either weapons or a trigger mechanisum on them. However as with all hindsight judgment post facto is easy as is betting on a race after it is run.

Was the amount of force used by the SAS disproportianate to the PIRA team threat, as individuals yes, as a bomb trigering team no. The number of shots fired and the manner in which it happened in of it’s self sujests that there was actualy not a “shoot to kill” policy in place at the time.

Adam Somethingorother January 30, 2007 11:39 AM

Rogrer said:

“Commander William Adama: There’s a reason you separate military and the police. One fights the enemies of the state, the other serves and protects the people. When the military becomes both, then the enemies of the state tend to become the people.”

You’re right, which brings out an interesting point.

British aren’t citizens, they’re subjects, it’s an important distinction.

In the US, the citizens create and limit the power of government. Rights are inherent in the citizens, and all power flows from them.

In the UK, the government grants it’s subjects rights.

They don’t trust their subjects, and especially don’t trust them with arms.

When government becomes the enemy of the people, as your quote says, and the government has a monopoly on force, and the police and military see them as the enemy, who will defend their liberty?

The Founding Fathers of the US were wise men indeed when they enumerated the inherent right of the individual to arm themselves to protect their own liberty.

Just my .02.

Jim February 5, 2007 8:53 AM

British aren’t citizens, they’re subjects, it’s an important distinction.

Totally 100% false. Please stop spreading ignorance. I know it’s trendy to trot out this “fact”, but it is simply not true. Brits have had citizenship for well over fifty years. There are corner cases where some people can still be subjects; they have to be over fifty years old and born outside of the British Commonwealth. These people are quite rare, and most of them can choose to become citizens should they want to.

In the US, the citizens create and limit the power of government.

Except the USA got the idea of limiting the power of government directly from the British and a little thing called the Magna Carta.

Coffeehound February 16, 2007 2:15 PM

Bruce- I have a little problem with this conclusion. There is little comparison between the training of the average police person and a special operative from the SAS. Delta, or Seals. While your thought, that the normal constraints of police rules could be bypassed by the SAS is correct, since military forces often operate under different rules of engagement, the big difference is that the SAS understands that Different Rules of Engagement exist and are trained to abide by mission-specific response instructions. Thus, the SAS is a more reliable instrument to use in high-risk situations.

A group such as the SAS is better prepared, if the situation hits-the-fan, to escalate their responses instantly and professionally. Police usually do not receive training in how to handle escalating military-scale altercations. SWAT teams are closer to the SAS in training for certain confrontational situations.

You may have issues with the administrators who set the rules of engagement, but they will so do regardless of the people used to handle a situation. That is another issue altogether.

James February 21, 2007 8:55 AM

The SAS Counter-Terrorist wing fulfils much the same role as the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team; indeed, they were amongst the early pioneers of close-quarters battle and hostage rescue tactics that are used by SWAT teams.
Besides, the British Army’s ROE for urban warfare have been honed by thirty years of active counter-insurgency operations in Northern Ireland; we’ve had plenty of time to learn the hard way.

Lambo March 2, 2007 9:43 PM

Diesel is the name of a dog, a rotweiller to be precise.You may ask what significance has a dog with this blog, Well the owner of this dog led a team that carried out the shooting of the IRA squad in gibraltar.On many occasions this dogs owner would state that once you have been let of the lead by the powers that be, you will not be held responsible for your actions. Now the SAS would have you believe that they can double tap a target at 25metres, however in gibraltar a women was shot more than 10 times in the head by these expert soldiers, whilst lying on the ground.As for the SAS operating in London dont be fooled by the tramps in hyde park, and Irish Kilburn have we lost you or just moved on to a new niebourhood.Oh yes diesels owner went on to command B SQN 22SAS and later to command 22SAS he is now a Major General in Iraq.Graham Lamb how long do you think you can hide your past ?

john March 10, 2007 6:31 AM

the SAS are trained to operate in highly populated areas. The use of force and brutality is only used when neccessary and there is believed to be a threat to the public or others.

john May 20, 2007 6:30 PM

Look at the peterhead prison seige where the SAS used non-lethal force to break the seige, save a mans life, and arrest the hostage-takers.

I know I would trust a highly-trained special forces unit to save me alot more than some jumped up, trigger-happy copper.

Pete July 14, 2007 12:07 PM

Fight fire with fire. Terrorists are nasty people and do not respect the liberal approach and see toleration as weakness. They do however understand the big slap when it happens,. How many times has it happened in the past where we haven’t had this capabilty on hand. We’ve got it now and will use it. All the liberal bleedin’ hearts will still be bleeding when laying on a pavement shredded by glass and nails and wondering how it was allowed to happen. I’ve no doubt attrocities will still happen on British streets, you can’t stop them all. At least though the ones we do stop end in court or by the bullet.
Fire with fire!!!!

john January 14, 2008 6:31 PM

Let me tell you, the uk met police did not kill him it was the SAS. Think about it.

Why would the police have killed him if they were sat next to him? They would have had rules of engagement. hence dont shoot unless your life or anybodies elses is at risk.

I dont think the uk police would have been so gun hoe.
it takes a trained killer to pull a triger close up with out worrying about the after effects on there careers.

I can tell you now it was the SAS who most probably shot him. But the problem we have in the uk most people are realy stupid.

Mandy McNair February 16, 2008 11:54 PM

21 SAS has been based in London for decades. They may be TA but they work very closely with 22. I was with them during the 80’s. Forget about one unit, there’s a whole regiment in London!

ex so19 officer March 25, 2008 5:21 AM

How come nobody understands that these firearms officers were heading to what they believed to be suicide bomber, who could detonate a bomb on seeing police approach not only killing the officers but other passengers as well. These are brave officers who put their lives at risk to save others, I cannot understand why people do not understand the true circumstances in which they entered that underground carriage. The myth of being SAS trained is well and truly over the top. Police use Army facilities to train at,with no training imput from the Army but under their own Police Supervision. This concession to Army facilities was due to a closer working relationship in future major incidents. Police in the Uk in specialised Firearm Units are far more experienced in all aspects of Home Terrorism. Believe me, the army would’nt last 5 secs without their cover being blown on the streets of the UK. Remember there is no N. Ireland conflict anymore, most serving SAS soldiers have never deployed in plain clothes situations on surburban streets, thay are more expert in Jungle and Desert Warfare , not a lot of that on the streets of London or Manchester etc. Forget the Myths and look at the facts our Police Specialist Units have for more operational experience than any Army Unit in the UK. Just to add something the Army used to request their Men to be attached to Police Units to gain experience.

daniel December 19, 2008 6:43 AM

what a lot of people dont take into account, is that the SAS are the best in the world at the job that they do. Armed Police officers are 99% of the time extremely professional people, but the SAS constantly trains for the type of situations that terrorists cause. I mean, they practice rolling into room, distinguishing terrorist from hostage and taking out the right person (often with bullets flying inches away from hostages head) over and over and over again untill they get it spot on. And then they do it some more. i live in hereford and i know some ex regiment guys who even now are always clocking people in the pub, because its like a reflex. let the SAS deal with the terrorists and the police deal with everything else i say

ta January 24, 2009 6:13 AM

the police are just to trigger happy yeah i agree they was going to stockwell to deal with what they was told was a suicide bomber they dealt with the threat accordingly ok shooting him that many times may be a bit over the top but at the end of the day if they are told hes a bomber they have 2 shoot him it wasnt there fault that in the end the man was innocent they should look to the top as everyone knows shit falls down not up there was an article in a newspaper a few months ago it was an sas member who trained some armed police a while back he couldnt believe how trigger happy they were the slightest thing made them want to pull the trigger he also said at the training hq etc they were walking around guns hanging on belts makin sure everyone knew they were armed police basically showing off he said he wasnt surprised that stockwell happened and it was a long time coming

Alistair Thompson October 22, 2009 11:28 AM

the SAS are not just a military unit, but a counter-terrorist force. They excel in the field of operation and during time off-tour they spend most of their time in the kill house (practice staging area for counter-terrorist operations) they also use live rounds from the start and so have gained the ability to seek friend and foe. They also train in the kill house with other SAS as acting as hostages and even maggie thatcher did this one time. They are not in london to perform a policing duty, but are there to do what some might say to be the ‘impossible’ which a CO19 may not be able to perform. And also most of the time we would never know if the situation would arise where the SAS would be called in as it would be over so quickly the media would have no idea as they learned that media attention affected them after the Iranian embassy hostage situation. Also CO19 and most other police CT units were originally trained by the SAS personally in counter-terrorism. Also somtimes when people in a situation reach for something in their pockets during a CT operation can be called a threat because they could be reaching for a gun or a detonator and most police and military CT units would not want to wait to see what happens. Also Menez’s shooting was not done by the SAS but by the SRR (Special Reconnaissance Regiment) which have a strong relationship with the secret services. But in conclusion i thing that its good we have one of the best CT operating forces in the world in London as we do not know what could happen next.

John December 14, 2009 5:40 PM

How many times have the sas been used in the uk in the last 10 years (none). So who does hostage rescues ect, police specialist firearms offices. They are trained by police trainers and have created there own tatics. who carried out the raids on the failed bombers of 21st july they not the sas. 100% right. They do 100s/1000s of ops a year in the urban environment, but how many do the sas do (none). Training is no substitute for the real thing. Also 2 sas raid in London in the 70s to 90s (don’t know the date) where done by co19 sfo unit and took none of the credit not by the sas. Also the sfos are trained in explosive entry ect. So stop saying their are a bunch of pi=$ takers!

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