Firearms Support Team

1979: Firearms Support Team Course: Firearms Support Team and Firearms training in Surrey Constabulary Richard Chase, Eric Adams, Mick Wayland, and Bob Bartlett:

Way back: Having dedicated teams of firearms officers is a fairly new initiative. For most of the history of the Surrey Constabulary there would have been a few firearms at the police station and if the need arose those who had been in the military or gun club would, with authority probably from the superintendent, draw a weapon and resolve the issue. One has to say they were successful as there are no records or events that indicate they were trigger happy or untrained.

Wartime arming of some officers probably associated with guarding sensitive buildings was the norm and post war the system of authorised firearms officers was developed. This involved a limited level of handgun training for men to be deployed mostly as containment but they were used to provide static guards for VIPs, mostly at their homes but also in hotels. An example of this was in 1964 when Ian Rand an ex-colonial police officer was given a gun to sit outside the door of the ousted Nigerian President Azikiwe at the Burford Bridge Hotel in Dorking.

Surrey was the first force ever to use CS gas in the UK when it was deployed in 1966 at a siege in Tranquil Dale at Betchworth (described in Part 3). There was a man with a shotgun who had threatened police officers. The gas was to be fired from a Very pistol but it was not man enough for the job and the cartridge bounced off the window.

Jumping ahead, the Dorking division was the first place where the constabulary opened fire intentionally – Brockham at an armed raid on the post office, the first time weapons were overtly deployed at an armed check point close to Gatwick when the threat became extraordinarily high from the IRA (1994) and at North Holmwood when a man was shot dead. There were two accidental discharges but they are another story!

Early days: Prior to the end of the 1970s Surrey had designated officers who were trained as Authorised Firearms Officers (AFOs) and a more experienced group who formed the 'Gas Squad', intended to use CS gas at a siege. (Mostly were ex-forces personnel.) Hobby shooters were also involved when the need arose. There were also snipers and detectives were trained some for personal protection of VIPs visiting the county to back up the Metropolitan Police.

Inspector's Arthur Crawford and Dave Smith were early leaders and trainers of the Squad who remained deployed on division and called together as required. Dog handlers were among those authorised, as the dog section were the ones who were tasked together with Special Branch for VIP protection. They carried out this role for many years with the armed handler patrolling the grounds with his dog and the Special Branch officer in the house on close protection.

There is more on the dog section role in this field in the history of the dog section.

Training on a range was periodic and few tactics were practiced. One element was experiencing the effects of exposure to CS gas, using a gas chamber at Pirbright Guards Depot, where Army outdoor ranges were also used.

The Gas Squad was deployed to Oxted where Chris Kersey had been shot in the face at the door of a house. The team were deployed, included Roger Weedon, Bob Sinden and Arthur Crawford. Eventually gas was deployed and the team made an entry. A serious fight took place when Bob Sinden had his gas mask pulled off and ended up in hospital alongside Chris!

Firearms Support Team: Inspector Eric Adams succeeded Dave Smith around 1978 and instructed by Chief Superintendent Eric Hughes to form the Firearms Support Team. In 1979 the first Firearms Support Team initial courses were conducted, attended by those AFOs who were considered marksman standard. The instructors were Eric Adams and PS Alan McArthur and from these men a team was selected to form the new concept of a Firearms Support Team.

All were volunteers and uniformed officers, who were on call for major firearms incidents: i.e. sieges and pre-planned firearms operations. Tactics were being developed and AFOs remained to supplement large scale incidents and to provide containment and guarding options. AFOs could be deployed by division to contain an incident pending the arrival of the team which could be a minimum of an hour before they arrived. Special Branch were authorised for VIP protection and gradually detectives were phased out from training.

In the 1970s the following weapons were carried in Surrey: a Smith and Wesson model 10 revolver (six inch barrel); Detectives/Special Branch carried the model 36, five inch short barrel, five shot revolver (This was notoriously inaccurate as at twenty five metres you aimed at the chin to hit the chest!); Webley CS gas gun; Parker Hale 7.62 safari sniper rifle (a beast of a weapon with a range of over five hundred metres and not exactly ideal for Police use in Surrey).

In the 1980s additional weapons were issued to the Firearms Support Team: Browning 9mm self loading pistol (SLP); Ruger mini 14 rifles, 223 calibre folding stock and long weapons; Remington 12 bore shotgun, for rifle slug for animal destruction and CS gas cartridges with a Hatton round solid slug to take off door hinges; The Webley was also used for baton rounds. 7.62 Sniper rifle was continued, but very unlikely to be deployed.

Firearms Support Team enhances skills in 1980s: Firearms Training Department conducted weapons training of live firing at Army ranges at Pirbright and Ash and following the opening of the indoor range at HQ in about 1983, additional methods were utilised to have a more capable group of AFOs and Firearms Support Team. Various empty buildings across the county were also used for tactical training.

The Firearms Support Team developed additional skills of VIP protection, sniper camouflage and concealment and more importantly a wide range of tactics in both overt appearance and plain clothes covert deployments. The latter was often in conjunction with Regional Crime Squad (RCS), our own Burglary Squad and (more dangerously for the Firearms Support Team) with the Metropolitan Police Flying Squad or CO11.

Firearms Support Team Officers attended courses conducted at regional training courses across the UK and Surrey had instructors with differing specialist knowledge and backgrounds. An inspector spent time with the SAS at Hereford, to convert their tactical methods to Police scenarios. Brian Hayes was Chairman of the ACPO Police Use of Firearms Committee, which allowed Surrey to be at the forefront of developments to have a professional team.

The Firearms Support Team continued to be volunteers who were called out when required. In the mid 1980s the demands increased to deployments to at times weekly, with the instructors being advisors at additional critical incidents.

A far greater demand on the Firearms Support Team was for pre-planned operations: i.e. staking out banks and other high value locations were intelligence indicated an armed robbery may take place. This lead to working closely with the Regional Crime Squad and their own tactics were being developed by Surrey Instructors for a closer understanding with specialist teams across the region. Members were sent on covert rural observation courses and were used in the role.

One of the many tasks included in January 1987 was the Hookwood Robbery: The Firearms Support Team were deployed at a milk/ dairy depot in Hookwood, near Horley, with the Regional Crime Squad conducting surveillance on targets who were driving from London to rob the dairy.

Two offenders carrying sawn off shotguns were about to approach the cash office, when they were challenged by the Firearms Support Team. They were arrested with no shots fired and the get-away driver was detained by the Firearms Support Team outside the premises. A highly successful operation which was subsequently used as an example of good practice for other forces and a training video was produced. The Firearms Support Team was awarded Chief Constable's Commendations for "Professionalism and brave conduct".

So many serious firearms tasks were undertaken in the late 1980s and early 1990s that the Chief Superintendent Operations decided that the awarding of commendations for the Firearms Support Team would cease. Almost every job undertaken was worthy of commendation for professionalism and courage and there was a danger of devaluing the award and deciding who if not all was to be awarded could become a cause of conflict within a team.

The number of deployments became such that the CC Brian Hayes offered a full time team at about this time. That was an attractive option but there were advantages for the men and by this time women, to remain on division or Traffic, to retain some sense of normality and not be set up as "a force within a force". The instructors were full time and an integral part of the team linking training with operations and operational learning back into the team training. A compromise was to lodge a complete response "go-bag" of weapons at Reigate to speed up response times.

There were so many tasks to undertake including planning to remove a very high risk prisoner from Coldingly to hospital, escorting Rene Black the drugs dealer, and protecting witnesses following a murder. Too many to list even if the memory would allow!

A further significant development was the cadre of superintendents trained to respond to firearms incidents. It had been the practice when the team was deployed for them to come under the operational control of the local superintendent.

Following an exercise organised by Operations with poor Superintendent Peter May in the chair it became obvious that the top of the range operation involving hostages, negotiators, explosive devices and full teams required specialist training. Seems obvious now!

With the agreement of the DCC Peter Sharp a small number of superintendents were trained to accompany the Firearms Support Team on deployments. It is believed that Surrey was in the forefront with the cadre, based on the public order model but, there were those that opposed a superintendent coming onto their area and usurping their authority. That was a poor argument as the local people had all the logistical support to organise, media and interface with their public. And if it went wrong they could always blame headquarters.

Another dangerous job, which this time ended in tragedy, occurred in Milford around 1988 one early evening when a man barricaded himself in his house. Inside the house he had wired up the electricity so that he could commit suicide by jumping in the bath. Negotiations went on for some time, until it was decided by Dave Stevens (to become Chief Constable Essex), the local divisional commander and a cadre member, that an entry had to be made to try and save the man's life.

The house was a not very large semi-detached one on a small estate. Gas and whiz-bangs were shot into the house, and the staircase was rushed to try and prevent the man killing himself, but without success as he beat the police to the bath where he jumped in clutching an electric fire.

There was the inevitable enquiry by the Hampshire Police, but they found no cause for criticism. The whiz-bangs blew the stairs away from the wall, and as usual so not unexpectedly started a small fire. One police officer from the Firearms Support Team was hurt by the exploding whiz-bangs as he was moving so quickly he was on top of the thing as it went off, and after a visit to hospital and a short time off sick, he was operational again.

In 1990 Firearms Support Team officers following and staking out banks and Securicor vehicles particularly in the east of the county to counter a significant number of armed robberies. Then on 27 November the Metropolitan Police working on "Operation Yamoto" shoot dead an armed robber at Reigate during an attempted raid on a Securicor van as was the getaway driver.

The number of deployments for the Firearms Support Team in 1990 was for about one hundred and thirty days, or seventy one operations, a workload increasing by about fifty percent a year. Then in 1991 the number of operations fell to forty one to dramatically increase in 1992/3. The deployment of the Armed Response Vehicles reduced the number of Firearms Support Team call outs dramatically.

In 1988 Dick Chase was awarded a Chief Constable's commendation for 'outstanding leadership and professionalism as head of the Firearms Support Team over a three year period', which he considered recognition for the dedication of the whole of the Firearms Support Team, over a developmental period in the history of firearms in Surrey.

Recognition is also deserved to Peter Moore who produced much of the tactical plans probably used to this day. Peter Moore was to be awarded the Queen's Commendation for Brave Conduct in 1992 when he was stabbed during an operation at Brockham Post Office. As a consequence of this incident the Team's weapons changed to the Heckler and Koch MP5 and to an automatic handgun.

When they left the teams PCs Elliott and Fisher received Departmental Commendations for their commitment to the team and professionalism over many years.

Exercising was a constant and some were spectacular as one in Caterham, "Wooden Pride", at the old hospital with a full Squadron of SAS. Playing the role of chief constable, the chief superintendent signed over control to the SAS major and a few moments later the noise was incredible and it was all so real even down to inspecting the outcome of the raid with the colonel.

A further continuing task undertaken by Firearms Support Team and AFOs was the protection of royal residences in the county – long, tedious tours of duty but undertaken with professionalism and with no complaints ever from the Principals.

In the 1990s following an attack on Heathrow by IRA mortars and coded and credible threats to Gatwick the decision was made to deploy armed response vehicles. Other forces were doing this with weapons in locked boxes that could only be opened on instructions from the Operation Room.

Surrey allowed for the handgun to be worn openly and discretion was given to officers as to what they deployed with on arrival at the scene of an incident. They never ever let the Force down which is an indication of the tight selection procedures and the quality of the people involved. A major step change was the deployment of permanent Armed Response Vehicles to deal with terrorist and armed incidents in the County.

Past Firearms Inspectors Surrey Constabulary: Dave Smith, Eric Adams, Mick Wayland, Dick Chase (1984 to 1988), Alan McArthur, Derek Mann, and in the time of the Constabulary the last Dave Cook.

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Malcolm Sutton and the future team leader in open country

Malcolm Sutton and the future
team leader

Malcolm Sutton and the future team leader in open country

Sergeant Keith Simmonds

1981, April 30: Surrey firearms team and Sussex combine in an open country search near at Newchapel near the Mormon Temple after an armed man made off from police.

 

1980s, early: Phil Norris Firearms Support Team: I was an Authorised Firearms Officer in 1976 and a founder member of the Firearms Support Team when first formed in 1979.

The formation of the Firearms Support Team was held up by the Chief Constable Peter Matthews who did not want a firearms team at all. He did not want policemen in Surrey with loaded guns but the Home Office had advised that all police forces would form a dedicated firearms team to train to a recognised standard.

Even though a team was formed, we did not really get let loose on the Surrey Public until 1980 when Sir Peter no longer had a choice.

I was the first officer to attend the National Police Sniper Course with Devon and Cornwall Police at Exeter and spent three weeks crawling around Dartmoor dressed in a camouflage suit, returning to the force with a 90% pass mark. I was also the first to attend a VIP and Specialist Handgun Course returning with a unique 100% pass mark, the first that Devon and Cornwall Police had ever awarded. ACC Brian Hayes was particularly pleased and sought me out personally to congratulate my efforts.

The following give some flavour of the work the Firearms Support Team undertook in the early 1980s:

Three of the team (me, Tim Page and Taff Jones) spent every day for two to three weeks hidden in 'hides' built from branches and leaves, in the woods of West Horsley trying to catch a male who armed with a knife was threatening female horse riders. We would enter the hides early morning and stay till darkness, cooking our meals on camping stoves.

One day when Inspector Mick Wayland came to check that we were okay, it was great fun to watch him wandering around the woods trying to find us, such was the quality of our hides. We eventually called to him when he was no more than ten feet away.

On another occasion, an armed robbery was expected on a post office van at Oxted and a number of us were picked up in a tiny post office van at Reigate, driven to the depot at Reigate where we transferred to a larger van and hid in the back. The van was followed at some distance by a coach containing the rest of the team lying on the floor.

An armed man was known to be travelling to Godalming with the intention of shooting a member of government so we "staked" out the railway station and waited for him. Myself and Mick Wraight lay alongside the platform alongside the 'live' rail and as the man stood above us with his feet overhanging the platform. I think both Mick and I stopped breathing rather than give away our location.

The rest of the team were hidden in metal skip containers in the nearby car park. The suspect then walked across the car park and Mick and I were able to move from our position and cover him. When the 'dulcet' tones of Pete Moore shouting 'ARMED POLICE' rang out across the car park, we all breathed a sigh of relief when the male stood, peed his pants and gave himself up. We breathed another sigh of relief when we found that the weapon had been left in the cab of the lorry that he drove there!

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1990: The Firearms Support Team was involved in a number of "knock on the door" operations where wanted men were arrested early in the morning. It was necessary at times to use armed officers, but if this was done it was very discreet. The officers were in plain clothes with no weapons on display. However, the guns were ready for immediate use, being in briefcases or sports bags.

HQ indoor range used by the Firearms Support Team

HQ indoor range used by the
Firearms Support Team

It was quite normal for the person who was arrested to be completely unaware that there had been an armed operation with him as the target. The day would start very early with a briefing in the firearms range at HQ. Weapons were issued from the armoury in the main building and those to do the work were divided into four man teams. A simple operation may just be four men with the cadre superintendent and a tactical adviser, the team inspector or one of the instructors sat around the corner out of the way, but ready to take charge should the incident develop.

Other operations were a little more complex and more officers became involved. The teams would sit together, separated by a few feet to make the point and others who were to assist on the job were sat close by. These might be dog handlers, Criminal Investigation Department officers or possibly Customs and Excise. The briefing was given by one of the instructors, usually Peter Moore, and then they would deploy in a number of powerful unmarked cars.

After all was done it was back to HQ or if the local police station had a canteen for the "full English" or what became known as the cholesterol slammer. In 1990 the number of deployments for the Firearms Support Team was for about one hundred and thirty days, or seventy one operations, in the year, a workload increasing by about 50% a year. Then in 1991 the number of operations fell to forty one to dramatically increase again in 1992/3.

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