Search Team

Surrey Constabulary Search Team: Founded about 1989: The searching for explosive devices became more complex after the explosion of the IRA bomb at the Grand Hotel in Brighton. In Surrey, Special Branch was responsible for VIP visits and armed protection and so for many years incongruously, these low profile officers had at various times a high profile role.

With the professionalism of the function, and after a tough fight, Operations Department took over responsibility for the search function and eventually armed protection of VIPs. There were national standards for training and Surrey had two operational Police Search Advisers or POLSA and a number of team members who were highly trained and called from division as and when they were needed.

In 1989 Clive Barham was appointed full time POLSA for the force and attended a basic search course run by Inspector Geoff Langley and PS Roy Vase who was then part-time search. The course was held at HQ. A month later Clive attended a national POLSA course and on his return ran all searches with part-time officers and carried out a training program to increase the number of search trained officers.

Sergeant Pete Griffiths attended one of these courses and as the workload increased (mainly crime) Pete was posted to the Operations Room so that it was easier to free him from operational duties at short notice. (Search and Operations Room both being Operation’s responsibility.) He was then made search full time and went on his POLSA course.

From 1989 to June 1993 the Team did just over four hundred and fifty searches. From June 1993 individual members of the search team were issued log books to record training and deployment. Inspector Barham ran the Search Team until he retired.

Early into their duties it was obvious that their skills were of great advantage to investigators at crime scenes or for finding missing people in open country searches. Searches in house revealed drugs, pornography and stolen property deeply hidden. At crime scenes a dropped wallet at a murder scene and the credit card of a rapist were found in the early days.

A huge amount of effort went into searching and securing premises before the visit of a Royal or VIP. With the support of DCC Peter Sharpe a large amount of top of the range equipment was purchased and deployed ensuring the team was well equipped and with their training and leadership extremely effective.

Soon after the name change to Surrey Police the team were to find IRA devices on the railway line near Woking. A police search adviser was trained and qualified by the Army who then certificated the advisers after a lengthy course held at Chattenden in Kent.

Bob Bartlett: The search team were to prove a great success and this success was at times nearly their downfall. The search team could be particularly effective when searching for missing people, for explosive devices and at the scenes of serious crime. The techniques that they learnt were invaluable and should not be confined to the limited search for devices. Also, to use them where they were more likely to find something kept them sharp for the real operation when there could be an explosive device.

The officers undertaking the work, other than an inspector and sergeant who were Operations Staff, worked on division and were called when required. The two members of Ops were trained by the military and in turn they trained teams from across the county. This meant that every time the teams were mobilised, as with the Firearms Support Team, the division lost their services.

As this was frequently at short notice it disrupted staffing levels and of course incurred a great deal of overtime, which had to be paid locally. The more successful they were the more they were called, the more disruption there was and the greater the costs to local overtime budgets leading to the more aggravation from Division about looting their staff. Yet they were undeniably very successful and made a significant contribution to the detection of several major crimes.

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