The Special Patrol Group (SPG) was a unit of Greater London's Metropolitan Police Service, responsible for providing a centrally-based mobile capability for combatting serious public disorder and crime that could not be dealt with by local divisions.
The SPG was active from 1961 to 1986, being replaced a year later by the Territorial Support Group.
The SPG recruited experienced officers capable of working as disciplined teams, either in uniform preventing street disorder, carrying out stop and searches, or providing a response to terrorist threat. During the time it was active it had a dedicated radio channel and a fleet of carriers to allow it to work independently of routine divisions.
The SPG originally consisted of several 'serials', made up of an inspector, two sergeants and twenty constables. Several serials were based throughout the Metropolitan Police District, providing response to each area.
Its position within the Metropolitan Police was somewhat unique; whereas the Flying Squad became the symbol of the Criminal Investigation Department in London, the SPG became recognised as a unit that efficient uniformed officers could aspire to join. As such it had an exceptionally high level of esprit de corps
One of the SPG's most controversial incidents came in 1979, while officers were policing a protest by the Anti-Nazi League in Southall. During a running battle, demonstrator Blair Peach was allegedly beaten to death by the SPG. In the inquiries which followed, a variety of unauthorised weapons were found in the possession of SPG officers, including Baseball bats, crowbars and sledgehammers. No SPG officer was ever charged with the attack, although later, an internal report was leaked which stated that the Metropolitan Police paid an out of court settlement to Peach's family. The SPG was also cited as a major factor in the 1981 Brixton riot.
The SPG is caricatured in Michael de Larrabeiti's The Borrible Trilogy novels as the SBG, the Special Borrible Group, which is charged with destroying the way of life of those who will not conform to society's norms.
The SPG was a frequent butt of jokes on Not the Nine O'Clock News, including a sketch where Rowan Atkinson criticises a racist police officer with the conclusion "There's no room for men like you in my force, Savage. I'm transferring you to the SPG".
In 1982, a destructive hamster was named "Special Patrol Group" by its owner, the punk character Vyvyan in the BBC sitcom The Young Ones. Given his name, it is perhaps no coincidence that SPG shares his owner's fondness for extreme violence.
Punk band The Exploited wrote the song "S.P.G" in response to the acts of the group at the time, and also in reference to an incident in which singer and author of the song Wattie Buchan was allegedly arrested by the SPG for violence at a demonstration. This incident is widely believed among the punk community to be untrue, as the SPG was unique to the Metropolitan Police and Buchan had spent most of his life to date in Scotland, although it is possible he travelled to London for said demonstration. The song can be found on the 1981 album Punk's Not Dead. Reggae poet Linton Kwesi Johnson dedicated his song "Reggae Fi Peach" (Album: Bass Culture) to the death of Blair Peach. The SPG is also mentioned in his poem "All Wi Doin is Defendin", in which he states that they "will fall".