The photograph of a new maritime unit includes six specialist firearms officers clad in goggles and helmets totting automatic machine guns. None of the armed officers are members of the unit. It was taken on behalf of the boat squad and published on the front page of a yesterday's Police Review magazine.
Senior officers at the Metropolitan Police, including Sir Paul Condon, the Commissioner, are understood to be extremely angry about the publication, which was not authorised by the Scotland Yard headquarters. They believe it gives a false and damaging impression of the Metropolitan Police.
But a monitoring group and a London MP last night accused Scotland Yard of macho behaviour and said the picture created an image of a police state.
The photograph was used to illustrate a feature about the four-man unit based on the River Thames. Officers have specialist training in the use of rigid inflatable boats, surveillance and abseiling.
Part of the force's Thames division, the Wapping-based team, will be employed on normal river-based policing activities, such as search and rescue operations, but will have an additional role transporting and assisting officers from other specialist units, training regularly with the force's SO19 firearms teams.
Insp Michael Burke, head of the Maritime Special Operations team, wrote an article for the magazine and according to Scotland Yard provided the photographs.
The internal inquiry will examine why police headquarters was not informed about the article or the contents of the photograph, which are seen as damaging to the force's image. A spokesman said: "There are a lot of questions to be asked. The image of the Metropolitan police is of police officers in helmets walking the beat."
But Tony Banks, Labour MP for Newham North West, said: "Gradually we are slipping into a police state where officers with visible guns is becoming the norm.
"I find it very scary and totally unnecessary to have this kind of macho posturing."
Gilly Mundy, project worker of the Newham Monitoring Project, a police monitoring group in London, added: "Either this is a bad PR mistake or the police are deliberately using this image to intimidate people".