A brief history of the Ministry of
Defence Police

This year the Ministry of Defence Police (MDP) celebrates its 50th anniversary, after it was formed following the amalgamation of the Army Department, Air Force Department and Admiralty Constabularies on 1 October 1971.

Ministry of Defence Police
10 min readJul 22, 2021
Male MDP officer holding a gun with barrier and black van in the background
MDP officer carrying out static armed duties

Protecting Defence has been at the heart of the MDP from the very beginning, with its earliest origins being recorded from 1574, at Chatham Dockyard.

Let’s look at what we know about where it all began, how the MDP has evolved over the past 50 years, and important milestones in the Force’s history.

Protecting Defence pre 1900s

In 1686 a force of ‘porters, rounders, and watchmen’ was set up to guard the nation’s naval yards. Their roles included meeting and escorting visitors, patrolling the yard, locking up the gates and watching important buildings or areas.

However, it was not till 1834 that the first Dockyard Police Force was formed, only to be closed down after an inquiry, led by the Admiralty and Metropolitan Police. In 1860, the Metropolitan Police took over policing the dockyards; a role they carried out for the next 75 years.

Sketch drawing of male police officer blowing his whistle and holding back crowds
An illustration of policing pre 1900s

Post 1900s and wartime policing

In 1922 the Metropolitan Police was withdrawn from the Dockyards and replaced by the Royal Marine Police, which comprised mostly of retired members of the Corps of Royal Marines.

They were sworn in under the Special Constable Act 1923, along with Air Ministry Wardens (authorised by the Air Force and later renamed the Air Ministry Constabulary), that took over policing of the airports from the Metropolitan Police.

In 1925, the Army also formed its own police force, leading to the inauguration of the War Department Constabulary, deriving its authority from the Metropolitan Police Act. This Force policed some 60 establishments throughout the UK, including the Royal Mint which later became a station that was protected by the MDP.

As a result of recruitment issues for the Royal Marine Police during the Second World War, a new section was created called the Royal Marine Police Special Reserve; this allowed ex-Servicemen to enlist.

The formation of a third marine force followed, and it was known as the Admiralty Civil Police. Anyone could join, and many did as an alternative to joining the Armed Forces. However, with each having its own conditions of service and disciplines, all under the same Chief Constable, the three Admiralty forces were disbanded and, in 1949, the Admiralty Constabulary was formed.

After the war

In 1964, the War Department Constabulary was renamed the Army Department Constabulary, when the War Office became the Army Department. In the same year, the Air Ministry became the Air Force Department and its police force was renamed the Air Force Department Constabulary.

The renaming of the Army and Air Force Departments took place as a result of the decision to combine the departments together with the Admiralty (known now as the Royal Navy), under the control of a unified Ministry of Defence in 1965.

Amalgamation of the three Defence Police Forces followed and the Ministry of Defence Police was established on 1 October 1971.

The first MDP Chief Constable was Mr F A Seward (1971–72). He came straight into post from his role as Chief Constable Admiralty Constabulary and Inspector of Overseas Police.

Changes in policing Defence since 1971

Prior to the formation of the MDP, Defence policing was mostly delivered ‘inside the wire’, carrying out static gate duties, checking passes and patrolling fence lines.

Whilst static armed duties and fence line patrols do remain a vital part of the MDP’s role to this day, since 1971 the nature of the threat to national security has evolved and as a result the Force’s role has changed too.

Black and white picture of MDP officer checking pass of a car that has stopped at the entrance of an MOD establishment
Officer checking passes at site entrance point

Whilst continuing to protect Defence establishments and sites of national importance, throughout the decades the MDP’s role has developed to focus on specialist armed policing, counter terrorism and expertise in dealing with large-scale protests.

Protester activity
MDP officers have been at the forefront of maintaining law and order during demonstrations. This has included protester activity at the nuclear sites we protect, as well as the memorable protests against RAF Greenham Common in the 1980s and 90s, and ‘Faslane 365’ in the Noughties which resulted in excess of 600 lock-on incidents and 1200 arrests.

Row of MDP officers in front of crowds of protesters
Faslane 365 — Protester activity against Trident

The Ministry of Defence Police Act 1987
The threat from Irish Republican Terrorism in the 1980s was one of the driving factors to the MDP requiring a formal legislative framework which allowed for its duties to be performed ‘outside the wire’, in what later became the Ministry of Defence Police Act 1987.

The Act drew together many of the powers from the old Acts and regulations from which the MDP was formed, recognising the MDP as a distinct police force. As a result, all officers within the MDP are now attested Constables and granted the powers and privileges of Constables in any place in the UK, within their jurisdiction.

Relocation of MDP HQ and training school
In 1995, the MDP Headquarters and training school relocated from Empress State building in London (where the Force HQ was based with other MOD branches) and Medmenham in Buckinghamshire, to the former RAF station in Wethersfield, Essex. The new HQ was officially opened by HRH The Princess Royal on 5 September 1995.

Agency status
In the following year, the MDP became a Defence Agency under the Government’s ‘Next Steps’ initiative and was the first British police force to be given agency status, with the Chief Constable being given the additional title of Chief Executive.

Male MDP officer and female MDP officers holding a radio and standing in front of MOD sign at MOD Main Building
MDP on patrol outside Defence HQ in Whitehall

The modern Force

From the millennium and throughout the last two decades, the MDP’s size and structure has transformed. Yet, delivering unique specialist policing, to protect the nation’s defences and national infrastructure, has remained the Force’s primary purpose and the story of the MDP has continued to evolve.

Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001

The year 2001 marked the 30th anniversary of the MDP and a significant milestone in its history, when the Anti-terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001 included increases to MDP jurisdiction.

The atrocities of September 11 were the catalyst for the Government to introduce emergency anti-terrorist legislation. For the MDP this had the effect of extending its provisions of the MDP Act 1987. Consequently, the Force can now respond outside its jurisdiction in emergency situations where there is a risk to life and to requests for assistance from other forces, including Mutual Aid when specialist resources or additional support is required.

Since the new legislation was introduced in 2001, the MDP has been called upon to support Home Office colleagues on many policing operations, with some notable occasions including the London bombings in 2005, Ipswich murders in 2006, Glasgow Airport Terrorist Attack in 2007, 2012 Olympics and most recently the G7 Summit in Cornwall.

Male and female MDP dog handlers with their dogs standing either side of G7 sign
MDP dog handlers at G7 Summit in Cornwall

Following the Manchester Arena attack in 2017, large numbers of armed MDP officers were mobilised as part of the first ever activation of Operation Temperer. Military personnel deployed alongside the police to backfill existing protective security roles, and the MDP were released to support the wider incident response, working with Home Office colleagues at locations across the UK.

International Policing
From 2001, the MDP supported a number of high-profile international policing missions, including Kosovo, Bosnia, the Pitcairn Island, Iraq, Jordan, Georgia and Afghanistan. The roles carried out by MDP officers ranged from mentoring and training, to providing assistance to the UK military and community policing.

Under Project Unity in 2004, the MOD Guard Service joined the MDP Agency and it was renamed the ‘Ministry of Defence Police and Guarding Agency’ (MDPGA), to provide ‘two badges, one service’. However, the agency was disbanded in 2013, as a result of the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) 2010. This saw the MDP revert to non-agency status and re-establish its identity as a stand-alone police force, reporting to, but not part of, Head Office.

New weaponry and uniform
In 2005 the MDP became the first force in the country to take delivery of MP7 firearms and along with C8 and SA80 firearms at selected sites, these are used to this day, alongside less lethal options such as Tasers and PAVA incapacitant sprays.

The MDP adopted the new national police uniform in 2010, transforming the appearance of the Force to what we now see today.

Specialist teams and capabilities
The MDP’s specialist policing capabilities have grown and developed, with some name changes along the way. Operational Support Units and Divisional Support Groups (now Central Support Groups) were established and provide an agile professional response to incidents — wherever they may be. Amongst the armed specialist policing skills these mobile teams provide, they also deliver search capabilities (in confined spaces and at height) and highly skilled protester removal teams.

Male and female MDP officers from the Operational Support Unit, dressed in climbing attire carrying equipment for carrying out rope access searches with OSU vehicle in the bacground
MDP officers from the Operational Support Unit

The MDP Marine Unit has grown to become the largest in any UK police force, whilst the MDP also has the second largest police dog capability in the UK.

Our Criminal Investigations Department (CID) has been renamed Crime Command and our Detectives’ work to prevent and detect fraud and corruption, working with other teams across Defence, continues. Crime Command intelligence gathering in support of Counter Terrorism has also developed throughout the years, with the team providing integral information to the Force and Defence.

By 2002, the MDP took on primary responsibility for guarding nuclear weapons convoys, in addition to its policing role at locations such as the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) sites and the Naval Base on the Clyde. The Special Escort Group continues to lead on delivering this part of the MDP’s service to Defence, alongside other military, policing and security partners, with the Tactical Firearms Unit (formerly the Tactical Support Group) also providing a dedicated specialist firearms capability for the AWE sites.

Defence Community Police Officers have supported Defence communities and Service families, as part of everyday life and particularly during overseas deployments to locations such as Afghanistan.

As part of the MDP’s Operational Policing Model, the Force adopted use of Project Servator in 2017. In its delivery of Project Servator, the MDP operates more frequently outside the wire with policing and security partners. Highly visible deployments are designed to disrupt criminal activity and reassure Defence communities and the public. Use of this national policing approach is continuing to develop and expand.

Policing operations to support the QECs
During recent years the MDP marine units have escorted HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales on maiden voyages from the shipyard to sea trials, first entry to their home ports at HM Naval Base Portsmouth and commissioning ceremonies. The MDP proudly continues to support arrivals and departures of the carriers at UK locations.

MDP Police Launch on the water with another Police Launch, RHIB and HMS Prince of Wales in the background
MDP Launch escorting HMS Prince of Wales

Recruiting our next generation of officers

During 2013 to 2014, MDP recruitment and training re-started for the first time since 2009, when an embargo on recruitment activity had been in place, as part of government cost saving measures.

New campaigns and courses have run almost continuously ever since, with approximately 2000 new recruits and new entrants from other forces having joined the MDP in the past 7 years.

MDP Chief Constable Andy Adams, and MDP trainer, presenting warrant cards to a line of new recruits at a graduation ceremony
Chief Constable Andy Adams presenting new recruits with their warrant cards

The next chapter

The Defence Operating Model was launched in 2019, and under this new structure the MDP is now an enabling organisation. Led by Chief Constable Andy Adams, the Force is ultimately accountable to the Permanent Secretary and the relationship with Head Office is now a form of Sponsorship. This allows the MDP to operate fully within Defence, but at ‘arms-length’ from Head Office. The MDP’s Corporate Plan provides more information on its operational and organisational priorities and objectives and how it supports the Defence Purpose.

A tangible change now on the horizon for the MDP is that, in the New Year, the MDP HQ and the Operational Capability Centre (formerly the Training School) will begin to relocate respectively to RAF Wyton in Cambridgeshire, Southwick Park near Portsmouth and RNAD Coulport on the Clyde.

Throughout the pandemic the MDP has focused on maintaining operational delivery, whilst also supporting the policing effort and implementation of the COVID-19 regulations. With the lifting of lockdown rules and easing of restrictions, there will of course be new challenges ahead as the Force works alongside the Department to ‘Build Back Better.’

The MDP’s recruitment campaign will re-open for candidate registration and pre-screening on 20 September. Visit www.mod.police.uk to find out more.

MDP 50 years anniversary logo