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  More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

The preserving of public order in medieval times was the responsibility of the *high sheriff of each county, while at a local level the parish constable brought offenders before a justice of the peace; Shakespeare provides the best-known early examples of each, in both cases comic, with Dogberry (the constable in *Much Ado About Nothing) and Shallow (justice of the peace in *Henry IV Part 2). The pursuit of a fugitive felon was a case of 'hue and cry', an established procedure in which those already in the chase called out to others to do their duty by joining in.

Such an amateurish system was inadequate to cope with the criminals of 18C London, and the first step towards a regular police force was the establishment in the 1740s of the *Bow Street Runners. But the foundation of a modern police force was the achievement of Robert *Peel – first in Ireland in 1814 with the predecessors of the *RUC (the 'peelers'), but above all in 1829 with London's Metropolitan Police Force (the 'bobbies').

The new Metropolitan Police needed premises close to the Home Office, and a building was chosen at 4 Whitehall Place in *Scotland Yard. In 1842 Scotland Yard established a specialist force of six detectives, calling them the Criminal Investigation Department. The CID now employs some 3500 detectives and itself contains several specialist departments well known by name to the public.

The Special Branch was formed in 1883 to combat *terrorism – at that time the enemy were the *Fenians, predecessors of the *IRA. Other duties have come to include protecting government ministers and foreign dignitaries visiting Britain, guarding against the activities of spies, and investigating offences against the *Official Secrets Acts. In 1992 the Special Branch relinquished to *MI5 much of its intelligence work against the IRA.

Probably the best-known department of the CID, through its fictional exploits on television, is the Flying Squad – reorganized in 1978 as the Central Robbery Squad, but still popularly known as the Sweeney (its name in Cockney *rhyming slang, from Sweeney Todd). It was set up in 1918 to patrol dangerous areas of London and it acquired in 1920 two motor vans to help in the task; it was they which won it the nickname of the Flying Squad.

The Fraud Squad was formed in 1946, staffed by officers from the Metropolitan Police together with the *City of London Police. Its remit was to tackle complex fraud cases, many of which have been dealt with since 1987 by the *Serious Fraud Office.

Although the Metropolitan Police are London's force, the CID takes a leading role in many national police activities – particularly against terrorists, drugs traffickers or forgers of currency – and Scotland Yard's National Identification Bureau is the central file of criminal records and fingerprints. But from around 1840 each county in Britain established its own police force, and they retain considerable autonomy.

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