The Sweeney: set up to tackle crime in the fast lane

The tough-talking, hard-hitting, and copious drinking antics of Regan and Carter in the television series The Sweeney, immortalised the men from Scotland Yard's Flying Squad.

Ever since the Seventies series the Metropolitan Police have tried to dispel the image of officers screeching around in Ford Granadas, willing to bend the rules to get results. But the unit's reputation took a further battering yesterday with the raids on 14 serving detectives and five retired officers, who have all served with the Flying Squad.

The unit was set up in 1919 to tackle racketeers, extortionists and burglars in London's suburbs. Instead of being attached to one district or division, it was designed to be mobile. The unit was coined the Flying Squad by a reporter and became known as the Sweeney - from the cockney rhyming slang Sweeney Todd.

The squad was at the forefront of crime detection. It was the first to be given radios and cars, go undercover and develop the supergrass system. Among its most famous cases were the 1963 Great Train Robbery and the theft of gold bullion from Brink's-Mat 20 years later. But with increased respect came claims of corruption. A former head of the Flying Squad, Kenneth Drury, was jailed for eight years in 1977 for accepting a pair of gold cufflinks from a jailed Soho pornographer, James Humphreys.

Following the drop in bank robberies, Scotland Yard considered disbanding the squad but it was given a reprieve last year. Today it has about 170 officers - about half are authorised to carry firearms.

- Jason Bennetto

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