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Territorial Support Group

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Title: Territorial Support Group  
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Subject: Traffic Operational Command Unit, Central Operations, Kettling, 2010 United Kingdom student protests, History of the Metropolitan Police Service
Collection: Metropolitan Police Units, Police Misconduct in England
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Territorial Support Group

Active 1987–present
Country  United Kingdom
Branch Central Operations
Type Domestic law enforcement
Role Domestic disorder, counter-terrorism, law enforcement
Part of Metropolitan Police Service
Nickname(s) CO20, TSG
Chief Superintendent Mark Bird[1]
"U" on shoulder number

The Territorial Support Group (TSG or CO20) is a Central Operations unit of London's Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) consisting of 793 officers.[2] It specialises in public order containment, among other specialist policing.[3] The TSG is a uniformed unit of the MPS that replaced the similarly controversial Special Patrol Group in 1987.[3] TSG units patrol the streets of London in marked police vans; officers can be identified as TSG from the distinctive "U" in their shoulder numbers.


  • Role 1
    • Public order 1.1
    • Borough support 1.2
    • Terrorism response 1.3
  • Recruitment 2
  • Equipment 3
  • Criticism 4
  • Academic response 5
  • Bases of operations 6
  • References 7


Today the TSG has three main tasks in the policing of the Metropolitan Police District:[3]

  • Securing the capital against terrorism.
  • Responding to disorder anywhere within London.
  • Reducing priority crime through borough support.

Public order

Although public order is not the TSG's only role, it is certainly their most visible and well-known. Like most Police Support Unit vehicles, TSG vans are equipped with mesh window shields and officers are equipped with acrylic glass riot shields, visored 'NATO' helmets, shin and elbow guards, along with fireproof coveralls when required. This level of protection allows them to deal with many violent situations, including riots, football violence and suspects armed with a variety of weapons. TSG officers are trained to a higher standard of operational readiness in their public order role than most other Police Support Units outside London; TSG training is refreshed every five weeks as a matter of routine. Exercises are conducted predominantly at the MPS Specialist Training Centre in Gravesend, Kent, though other sites are used as required, and encompass all public order scenarios; officers will undergo extensive riot training including being petrol bombed in large-scale engagements, prison clearance tactics, football stadium scenarios, night club scenarios, aircraft, rail and various 'angry-man' scenarios, as well as additional specialist training. TSG units spend considerable time training with other specialist police teams as well as certain military units. Also, if a siege situation is present, but firearms are not involved, TSG will often be deployed to counter the threat.[4] Reflecting this role the unit's former head, Commander Michael Johnson, was tactical commander for the London 2012 Olympics.[5]

Borough support

TSG provides support to regular divisional officers through high-visibility patrols, surveillance and decoy operations while also providing a presence on the streets. Boroughs are also supported through the provision of a 'Commissioner's Reserve' a section of TSG that is on standby all year round; it is designed so such a unit is always available to respond anywhere within the Metropolis to quell public order problems, from a bar brawl to large-scale public disorder. Day to day TSG assist the boroughs in handling and relocating particularly violent prisoners.[3]

Terrorism response

TSG is equipped and trained to deal with the aftermath or evacuation during or after a terrorism emergency in London, and the unit includes a CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear) trained team. Working closely with CO15 (the Metropolitan Police Counter Terrorism Command) TSG also has counter-terrorism responsibilities.[3]


Potential TSG candidates are selected from mainstream divisional officers. Officers are selected on merit and much emphasis is placed upon their personal policing ability, motivation, resilience and good communication skills. Fitness and stamina are also seen as essential attributes of TSG personnel. Applicants must be recommended by a senior officer (minimum rank of Inspector) whilst on division.[3]


Mercedes Sprinters are the standard vehicle of TSG and each van transports six Constables and a Sergeant. Three of these vans can form an operational Serial ready to respond to incidents; following the national PSU model this would include an Inspector, three Sergeants, eighteen Constables, two medics and three drivers.[4][6]

TSG officers are not routinely armed, but are equipped with Speedcuffs, Monadnock fixed batons and CS/PAVA Incapacitant Spray like divisional officers. TSG does, however, have its own firearms capability with some officers being trained as Authorised Firearms Officers (AFOs) on standard-issue firearms such as the Glock 17 and Heckler & Koch MP5 semi-automatic carbine, as well as less-lethal weaponry such as the L104A1 Baton Gun and X26 Taser. Officers conduct certain infrequent armed patrols within London, usually supplementing Specialist Firearms Command.[7] Instead of TSG officers wearing standard black trousers and white shirt, when policing demonstrations they often wear fire-retardant overalls with their stab vests underneath.[4]

TSG is also authorised to deploy Tasers. They have been in use for some time by Trojan teams and are now authorised for use by TSG officers. Tasers are traditionally used to incapacitate a suspect where the use of baton or incapacitant spray has proved ineffective, and the use of a firearm is inappropriate. Tasers are intended to be a less-lethal option for police where a suspect proves particularly violent and/or resistant to conventional means of arrest.[3]


Officers in the TSG have faced criticism about their policing methods and complaints have been made against officers of the TSG.[8] Senior officers say that the type of work that the TSG are involved with, policing protests and performing drug raids makes them more likely to have complaints made against them.[9]

As the result of a freedom of information request made by The Guardian newspaper, it was revealed that more than 5,000 complaints were made against the TSG in 4 years but only 9 have been upheld. Commenting on these figures, a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority stated that officers in the TSG are "practically immune" from criticism.[9]

One ex-Metropolitan Police officer suggested that TSG members, "spend (their) days waiting for action, and far too many officers join seeking excitement and physical confrontation." Some officers are ex-military personnel and these are "the worst bullies" as "the laws of the battlefield are not appropriate to the streets of our capital".[10]

In 1997 a man was beaten by officers from the TSG in what was described as an "outrageous display of brutality",[11] which only stopped when the man pretended to be unconscious. The man was charged with assault and threatening behaviour over the incident but was cleared after photographs of his injuries showed the officers had lied about the case under oath. After the man's acquittal the officers went on trial accused of assault in 1999 but were later cleared.[12]

In 2003, six officers of the TSG performed what a judge in 2009 called a "serious, gratuitous and prolonged" assault on a terrorist suspect, Babar Ahmad, a 34-year-old IT support analyst who was not subsequently charged with any offence.[13] The officers involved had already been the subject of as many as 60 complaints about unwarranted assaults against other men.[14] A number of mail sacks containing these complaints were somehow lost.[15] The accusations were investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission[16] but that they were found to be unsubstantiated. Five of the six officers were still members of the TSG in 2009.[14] Babar Ahmed was later awarded £60,000 compensation, by the High Court, for the assault.[13] In August, 2009, it was announced that the police officers accused of attacking Babar Ahmad would face criminal charges.[17] However all four officers were found not guilty in June 2011 after a recording from listening device placed in Mr Ahmed's home surfaced shortly before the trial which "proved the account originally given by these officers was correct and specific details of the complaint made by Mr Ahmad were not present" [18]

In 2005 a Kurdish youth recorded an officer on his mobile phone telling him "If you say one more fucking word, I'll smash your fucking Arab face in" after he was stopped near Paddington Green police station.[19] The officer was suspended but denied the charge.[20]

Another investigation into six other officers of the TSG by the IPCC was launched following allegations made by three men that they were racially abused during an incident during June 2007 in Paddington.[21] A van of officers stopped after seeing youths mouthing obscenities towards them.[22] The officers appeared in court in December 2008 and were prosecuted; two for racially abusing the men, four of misconduct in a public office and one of racially aggravated assault.[23] The Guardian reported that a request may have been made to restrict reporting of the trial by the media.[24] The officer who was driving the van acted as a whistleblower during the trial.[22] One officer, a former Royal Marine, accused in this case was also involved in the assault of Babar Ahmed and has had 31 complaints lodged against him since 1993. In November 2009 he was cleared of all offences, along with the other officers, and returned to work with the TSG.[9][25]

During the 2009 G-20 London summit protests two officers of the TSG were suspended from duty following publication of videos which recorded alleged assaults on members of the public at the 2009 G-20 London summit protests and at a subsequent memorial.[26] In the first case, the member of the public, Ian Tomlinson, died shortly afterwards. In the second case, Sgt Delroy (Tony) Smellie was seen hitting Nicola Fisher. Following her complaint, the Crown Prosecution Service announced in September 2009, that there was sufficient evidence to charge Sgt Smellie with assault. He appeared in court on 16 November 2009 and was cleared of assault charges on 31 March 2010 at City of Westminster Magistrates' Court. However, he could still face misconduct proceedings over the incident.[27]

Video evidence shows that the officer seen hitting Ian Tomlinson had his face covered[28] and that the officers involved in both cases were not displaying their identification numbers.[26] Following the investigation into police handling of the protest, the human rights group Liberty called for further study of what it referred to as the "militaristic approach" used by the TSG.[29]

Academic response

The TSG and their predecessors, the SPG, have been likened to paramilitary units during riot control operations by Tony Jefferson in the The Case against Paramilitary Policing (1990). He argues this because of their use of shields, batons and helmets, their centralised command structure, their willingness to use force and being deployed in squad like formations. P. Waddington counters his conclusion in the British Journal of Criminology by pointing out that their equipment is mainly defensive. As employees, the police force have a duty to protect them from harm, he also notes that paramedics in riot situations also wear similar helmets and armour. Jefferson argues that by the police preparing for an event, such as a march or protest where they expect there to be violence, they create a self-fulfilling prophecy and that violence will occur. Waddington responds to this by pointing out that the TSG were deployed at the Notting Hill Carnival every year and yet there was not always violence. Jefferson also believes that by controlling the ground the TSG incites violence, Waddington cites examples (including the Battle of the Beanfield) where problems were caused by the police not controlling the ground and that when they have then tried to gain control violence ensued.

Waddington states that if the presence of the TSG caused violence, then violence would not occur if they were not deployed. Waddington uses examples from three Poll Tax Riots to illustrate that the assumption that their deployment causes violence is not correct. When the TSG were not deployed, serious disorder occurred, including a fully-fledged riot. In contrast when the TSG, including specialists in riot control, were deployed there was less violence. What is more he found that the more the police planned for the 'worst-case scenario' the less disorder there was. When they controlled the space and the crowd was at its greatest, violence was lowest. Waddington states that whilst the deployment of the TSG in a riot situation is never desirable, it is often essential to maintain order and limit violence. However, he also believes that the use of force should be as minimal as possible and that it should only be used to achieve publicly acceptable purposes.[30]

Bases of operations

The TSG operates from five bases located around London:[3][31][32][33][34][35][36][37]


  1. ^ Gough, Helen (2012). Police and Constabulary Almanac 2012: Official Register. England: Sweet & Maxwell.  
  2. ^ IPCC, 21 December 2012 Metropolitan Police Service Territorial Support Group: A review of complaints data and IPCC cases 2008-2012
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h "Metropolitan Police: Territorial Support Group". Metropolitan Police Force. 2008-10-29. Retrieved 2008-10-29. 
  4. ^ a b c Waldren, Michael J. (2007). Armed Police, The Police Use of Firearms since 1945. England: Sutton. p. 224.  
  5. ^ "Acting Commissioner’s Report". MPA Committee Reports. MPA. 15 September 2011. Retrieved 13 March 2012. 
  6. ^ "Dyfed-Powys Police - Public Order" (PDF). Best Value Review Inspection Reports. HMIC. March 2003. Retrieved 1 March 2003. 
  7. ^ "MPS Firearms Policy, performance and training". MPA Committee Reports. MPA. 18 January 2002. Archived from the original on 2010-07-11. Retrieved 10 September 2010. 
  8. ^ Dugan, Emily (19 April 2009). "Third allegation of police brutality at G20 investigated". The Independent (London). Retrieved 25 May 2010. 
  9. ^ a b c Lewis, Paul; Matthew Taylor (6 November 2009). "'"Scotland Yard riot squad faces calls to end 'culture of impunity. London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2009-11-08. 
  10. ^ : Stress, sexism and sacrifice of idealsNew Statesman
  11. ^ Dodd, Vikram (5 October 1999). "Police beat up man then lied on oath, court told". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2009-11-08. 
  12. ^ "Article: Police trio cleared of beating up suspect.". The Mirror. 21 October 1999. Retrieved 2009-11-08. 
  13. ^ a b BBC News 18 March 2009 £60,000 awarded to terror suspect
  14. ^ a b Specialist protest squads at centre of investigations into G20 police violence Sandra Laville The Guardian, Thursday 16 April 2009
  15. ^ Matthew Taylor and Rachel Williams Metropolitan police pays Muslim man £60,000 damages over 'serious attack' The Guardian 18 March 2009
  16. ^ 10 September 2004 IPCC - Complaint by Mr Babar Ahmed
  17. ^ Police officers accused of attacking terror suspect Babar Ahmad to face criminal charges The Guardian 12 August 2010
  18. ^ "Babar Ahmad police officers not guilty of assault". BBC News. 3 June 2011. 
  19. ^ The Guardian Constable suspended 'after racist tirade caught on mobile' 19 May 2005
  20. ^ BBC News Policeman denies 'racist attack' 5 April 2006
  21. ^ IPCC 5 December 2008 Six officers summonsed following IPCC managed investigation
  22. ^ a b Saddique, Haroon (12 October 2009). "Police officers racially abused teenagers in van, court hears". London:  
  23. ^ BBC News Police face racial abuse charges 5 Dec 2008
  24. ^ Paul Lewis The Guardian Six Met officers to appear in court over racial abuse allegations 6 December 2008
  25. ^ Gardham, Duncan (4 November 2009). "Police officer cleared of racist assault had attacked terrorism suspect before". London: The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2009-11-08. 
  26. ^ a b Charlotte Gill and Neil Sears The Daily Mail Watchdog receives 145 complaints over G20 police as protester struck by officer demands compensation 16 April 2009
  27. ^ "BBC NEWS UK Officer faces G20 assault charge". 28 September 2009. Retrieved 2009-09-28. 
  28. ^ Dominic Lawson Lash out, close ranks – it’s the police way The Sunday Times 12 April 2009
  29. ^ - The Times, Police protest tactics need urgent reform, says Denis O'Connor's G20 report, 8 July 2009.
  30. ^ Waddington, P. A. J (Summer 1993). "The case against paramilitary policing considered". British Journal of Criminology 33 (3). Retrieved 30 May 2009. 
  31. ^ Daily Telegraph Police officer who stole and crashed riot van jailed, 30 December 2008
  32. ^ Metropolitan Police Authority North east operations OCU - tender approval, 15 May 2001
  33. ^ Metropolitan Police Service NE Garage - Chadwell Heath, Accessed 13 April 2009
  34. ^ Greater London Authority Written Answers to FBQT, 13 June 2001
  35. ^ Metropolitan Police Service Lambeth TSG Open Day, 22 November 2008
  36. ^ Metropolitan Police Authority Proposals for redeveloping deployment facilities at Alperton traffic garage, Brent, Accessed 6 January 2012
  37. ^ GetWestLondon New police base to open in Alperton this week, 30 June 2014
  • TSG offers view inside its work, The Job, 11 February 2005.
  • Having a Riot, The Job, May 2008.
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