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18/10/2019: The Sweeney

The Sweeny
The First Sixty Years of Scotland Yard’s Crime Busting Flying Squad

By Dick Kirby
Published by Pen and Sword

After a career in the Metropolitan Police, I was flattered and enthusiastic to review a book written by former police officer, now police historian and author Dick Kirby.

I had previously read the Brave Blue Line as it featured a story about my late father’s colleagues, a group of four men who were pioneers as the first police surveillance motorcyclists, two of which got involved in a violent confrontation in South London. It is a great read about police bravery, so a history of the iconic Flying Squad to read was never going to be a chore.

Dick starts with the obvious history and origins of the Flying Squads' formation which from the start involved confrontation with violent members of society on a weekly basis and the exercise of selfless bravery to protect the public and each other. If you want to know the origins of the The Sweeney’s official and colloquial name you’ll need to read Dick’s book!

Covering 1919 to 1978 it goes through periods of great upheaval in Britain’s social and economic history and the different kinds of violent crimes associated with it. The chapter on the pursuit of the Great Train Robbers with the squad led by Tommy Butler was just riveting. I also enjoyed reading about two officers who were my divisional bosses when I first joined the Met police and they were near there end of their careers; Bob Robinson and Stuart Giblin.

Amongst the stories of dealing with men who were ruthless in their willingness to use hardcore violence, there is a brilliant anecdote about Sergeant Bird from the Flying Squad, tasked with investigating the theft of some birds of prey, particularly an eagle that fortunately survived,

There is also the account of the officers who chased members of the IRA active cell to the flat in Balcombe Street, London that was then besieged, with the negotiations led by the late Lord Peter Imbert.

Having read previously about police bravery and awards, this book is not short of stories of such courage, and the awards that they so rightfully attracted.

Dick Kirby has maintained his great story telling, attention to detail and research and ability to keep the reader engaged in the stories told from start to finish. Thanks, Dick, I look forward to getting another of your offerings to read!

Reviewed by Bryan Lightbody on behalf of For the Love of Books,

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