Specialist Operations

The Specialist Operations directorate is a unit of the Metropolitan Police of London, UK responsible for providing specialist policing capabilities including national security and counter-terrorism operations. The Specialist Operations Directorate is currently led by Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu.[1]


At its peak, SO was a group of twenty specialist units, which were formed to give the Metropolitan Police a specialist policing capability. The SO designation was implemented in 1986 as part of Sir Kenneth Newman's restructuring of the Metropolitan Police Service. Most of the units designated SO units were already in existence, many of them as departments of C Division and its branches, and all were presided over by an Assistant Commissioner of Special Operations (ACSO).

In 2010, ACSO co-directed Operation Guava, aimed at "a significant terrorist plot".[2] The aim of this ACSO action was to prevent the establishment of a jihadist training camp in Kashmir on land owned by one of the suspects.[3] Operation Guava resulted in the 2012 conviction of Usman Khan, who went on to perpetrate the 2019 London Bridge stabbing.[4][5]


The Specialist Operations Directorate comprises three Commands.[6]

Protection Command

Protection Command response vehicle near Kensington Palace

The Protection Command is led by a Commander overseen by a Deputy Assistant Commissioner.[6] The command is responsible for protective security for high-profile governmental representatives of the United Kingdom or from the diplomatic community. As such it is analogous to the United States Secret Service or the Diplomatic Security Service. The command comprises two branches:[7]

  • Royalty and Specialist Protection (RaSP) provides personal protection for the Royal Family, the Prime Minister, Government ministers, ambassadors, visiting Heads of State and other individuals deemed to be at risk. RaSP also provide armed security at Royal Residences in London, Windsor and Scotland. The Special Escort Group (SEG) is also operated by Special Operations.[8]
  • Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection (PaDP) provides armed protection of embassies, missions and the Parliamentary Estate. They also provide residential protection for high-profile Government ministers and are responsible for access control and security at Downing Street and New Scotland Yard. PaDP was formed in April 2015, with the merger of the Diplomatic Protection Group (SO6) and the Palaces of Westminster Command (SO17).[8]

Security Command

The Security Command is led by a Commander overseen by the same Deputy Assistant Commissioner as Protection Command.[6] The command comprises two branches:[7]

Counter Terrorism Command

The Counter Terrorism Command (CTC) is led by Commander overseen by a Deputy Assistant Commissioner. The Deputy Assistant Commissioner is the concurrent National Police Chiefs' Council Senior National Coordinator for Counter Terrorism leading National Counter Terrorism Policing Network.[10] The Counter Terrorism Command (SO15) is responsible for protecting London and the rest of the United Kingdom from the threat of terrorism. The Command operates against the threat of terrorism at a local, national and international level, and supports the National Counter Terrorism Network (the Regional Counter Terrorism Units and the National Police Chiefs' Council). The Command also has the national lead for domestic extremism in support of the National Domestic Extremism and Disorder Intelligence Unit. The Command also deals with sensitive national security investigations, such as Official Secrets Act enquiries, the investigation of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and politically motivated murders.[10] It was created in 2006 through the merger of the Met's Anti-Terrorist Branch and Special Branch.

Previous structure until April 2015

Protection Command

Until April 2015 Protection Command was split into three units that provide protection for ministers, the royal family, and for foreign embassies, diplomats, and visiting dignitaries:

  • Specialist Protection (SO1) – Provided armed personal protection services for ministers, and public officials at threat from terrorism, including visiting heads of government and other public figures. In April 2015, it was merged with Royalty Protection, to form Royalty and Specialist Protection (RaSP).
  • Royalty Protection (SO14) – Provided protection of the Monarch and other members of the Royal Family. The OCU is divided into Residential Protection, Personal and Close Protection, and the Special Escort Group (SEG), who provide mobile protection. In April 2015, it was merged with Specialist Protection, to form Royalty and Specialist Protection (RaSP).
  • Diplomatic Protection Group (SO6) – Provided protection for foreign missions in London, including protecting embassies, and the residences of visiting heads of state, heads of government and ministers. In April 2015, it was merged with the Palace of Westminster Division, to form Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection (PaDP).

Security Command

Until April 2015, the Security Command consisted of three units that provide protection of Parliament and the two airports within Greater London (Heathrow Airport and London City Airport), and organise security for major events in London.[11]

  • Palace of Westminster Division (SO17) – Was responsible for the protection of the Houses of Parliament, and consisted of a team of 500 people.[12] Officers were unarmed. In April 2015 it was merged with the Diplomatic Protection Group, to form Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection (PaDP).
  • Aviation Security Operational Command Unit (SO18); became Aviation Policing (SOAP).
  • Counter Terrorism Protective Security Command (SO20); remains unchanged.

Counter Terrorism Command

Counter Terrorism Command (SO15) has remained unchanged.

Historical structure

Owing to continual restructuring of the Metropolitan Police, only a few of the original SO units still exist in their original form and still use the SO designation. Where the SO designation has been reassigned to another unit, the units are listed in order

See also


  1. "Home - The Met". content.met.police.uk. Retrieved September 30, 2018.
  2. "Quarter 2, 2010–11 GLA Group Monitoring Report - Appendix 1" (PDF). Mayor of London. 3.70: London Assembly. 9 February 2011. p. 41. Retrieved 1 December 2019. 20 December 2010, 12 Terrorism Act arrest warrants were executed simultaneously in relation to Operation Guava, under the direction of ACSOCS1 maint: location (link)
  3. Pantucci, Raffaello (2015). "Innovation and Learning in the British Jihad". In Magnus Ranstorp; Magnus Normark (eds.). Understanding Terrorism Innovation and Learning: Al-Qaeda and Beyond. Routledge. p. 221. ISBN 978-1317538059. the Operation Guava group planned to establish a training camp in Kashmir on the grounds of a piece of property owned by one of the cell's members and to turn this into a location where British jihadists could go and train
  4. Paul Hannon; Stephen Fidler (30 November 2019). "Attack by Convicted Terrorist Prompts U.K. to Review Sentencing". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 1 December 2019. Mr. Khan was one of nine people who were imprisoned after pleading guilty to being part of a group that was plotting in 2010 to plant a pipe bomb in a toilet in the London Stock Exchange. The group, which had been tracked by Britain’s internal security service MI5 in an operation code-named Guava
  5. "Terrorism gang jailed for plotting to blow up London Stock Exchange". The Telegraph. 9 February 2012. Retrieved 30 November 2019. Usman Khan, 20, and Nazam Hussain, 26, were raising money to set up a terror training camp on land owned by Khan's family in Kashmir, Pakistan
  6. "Metropolitan Police Service Executive Structure" (PDF). Metropolitan Police Service. June 2018. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2018-08-29.
  7. "Structure of Met Operations & Specialist Operations". Metropolitan Police Service. 4 December 2018. Freedom of Information Request 2018110000484. Retrieved 20 August 2020.
  8. "Protection Command". Metropolitan Police Service. Archived from the original on 29 July 2016.
  9. "Aviation Security". Metropolitan Police Service. Archived from the original on 27 June 2009.
  10. "Counter Terrorism Command". Metropolitan Police Service. Archived from the original on 25 April 2016.
  11. "Security Command". Metropolitan Police Service. Archived from the original on 12 June 2015. Retrieved 27 February 2015.
  12. Harrison, Craig. "Protection Command". Eliteukforces.info. Retrieved 23 March 2017.