Great Expectations Of The MPU

Today is the 200th anniversary of the birth of renowned English novelist Charles Dickens (7 February 1812 - 9 June 1870), widely considered the greatest of the Victorian period.

London as Dickens knew it, reached his pages, not from his imagination, but from his observations. Among these were Dickens' fascination with, and close study of, the Thames Police Force, which would become the Marine Police Unit (MPU), and the problems that confronted them.

The breakdown of law and order was a big problem blighting nineteenth century London. Merchant ships laden with expensive cargoes were moored along the shores; and goods from the large vessels anchored in mid-stream were stored in huge warehouses along the riverside and in the docks. Looting and pilfering from these was rife and over the years the River became one of the richest areas for theft.

The marine police were set up in 1798 on the site of the present Divisional Headquarters of the Marine Police Unit to control the alarming rise in thefts from the boats, quays and warehouses and has continued to develop this role to this very day as it continues to patrol all 54 miles of the Thames river from Dartford Creek to Staines Bridge.

Dicken's noted that the Thames Police Force was composed of 98 men in 1853, with eight duty rowing boats and two supervision rower boats. Today the MPU boasts 76 officers and a fleet of 15 fully motorised patrol boats.

Inspector Chris Connelly is very proud of the heritage of the MPU and believes a lot of the marine police work observed by Charles Dickens, continues to endure. He said:

"Our predecessors were tackling crime on the Thames when it was the world's busiest commercial seaport and we are very busy today meeting modern challenges. Many of the docks and wharves may have closed but the river is now turning to leisure, riverboat parties and water sports which bring their own problems of crime and accidents. We have had some terrific recent results discovering smuggled goods, uncovering drug dealing on vessels during pro-active ops and also recently responded to a call to HMS Belfast following a gantry collapse.

"All 54 miles of the Thames has been constantly patrolled for 180 years and we are very proud of that. We have a massive role to play in the Queen's Golden Jubilee and the Olympic Games this summer; there is a lot to look forward to.

"The shoreline of the old Thames river Mr Dicken's would seen may have altered slightly but the dedication and commitment of our officers has continued since he patrolled with our 'for ever on the watch' officers in their rowing boats over 150 years ago."


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