Scotland Yard is a metonym for the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police Service of the British capital. It derives from the location of the original Metropolitan Police headquarters at 4 Whitehall Place, which had a rear entrance on a street called Great Scotland Yard. The entrance became the public entrance to the police station.
Officially it is called the New Scotland Yard, though an official Scotland Yard has never actually existed. The Metropolitan Police moved away from Scotland Yard in 1890, and the name ‘New Scotland Yard’ was adopted for the new headquarters. Over time, the street and the Metropolitan Police became synonymous.
The Metropolitan Police senior management team, who oversee the service, is based at New Scotland Yard, along with the crime database. This uses a national IT system developed for major crime enquiries by all UK forces, called Home Office Large Major Enquiry System, more commonly referred to by its acronym, HOLMES (which recognises the great fictional detective Sherlock Holmes). The training programme is called ‘Elementary’, after Holmes’s well-known, yet apocryphal, phrase ‘elementary, my dear Watson’. Administrative functions are based at the Empress State Building, and communication handling at the three Central Communications Command complexes, rather than at Scotland Yard.
Commonly known as the ‘Met’, the Metropolitan Police Service is responsible for law enforcement within Greater London, excluding the square mile of the City of London, which is covered by the City of London Police. The London Underground and national rail network are the responsibility of the British Transport Police.
The Metropolitan Police was formed by Home Secretary Sir Robert Peel with the implementation of the Metropolitan Police Act, passed by Parliament in 1829. Peel, with the help of Eugène-François Vidocq, picked the site at 4 Whitehall Place for the headquarters. Previously a private house, the building backed onto a street called Great Scotland Yard.
The first two Commissioners, Charles Rowan and Richard Mayne, along with various police officers and staff, occupied the building. By 1887, the Met headquarters had expanded from 4 Whitehall Place into several neighbouring addresses, including 3, 5, 21 and 22 Whitehall Place; 8 and 9 Great Scotland Yard, and several stables. Eventually, the service outgrew its original site, and new headquarters were built on the Victoria Embankment, overlooking the River Thames, south of what is now known as the Ministry of Defence HQ.
In 1888, during the construction of the new building, workers discovered the dismembered torso of a female; the case, known as the ‘Whitehall Mystery’, has never been solved. In 1890, police headquarters moved to the new location, which was named New Scotland Yard. By this time, the Metropolitan Police had grown from its initial 1,000 officers to about 13,000 and needed more administrative staff and a bigger headquarters.
Further increases in the size and responsibilities of the force required even more administrators, and in 1907 and 1940, New Scotland Yard was extended further. This complex is now grade I listed and known as the Norman Shaw Buildings. The original building at 4 Whitehall Place still has a rear entrance on Great Scotland Yard. Stables for some of the Metropolitan Police Mounted Branch are still located at 7 Great Scotland Yard, across the street from the first headquarters.
By the 1960s the requirements of modern technology and further increases in the size of the force meant that it had outgrown its Victoria Embankment headquarters. In 1967 New Scotland Yard moved to the present building at 10 Broadway, still within Westminster, which was an existing office block acquired under a long-term lease.
A number of security measures were added to the exterior of New Scotland Yard during the 2000s, including concrete barriers in front of ground-level windows as a countermeasure against car bombing, a concrete wall around the entrance to the building, and a covered walkway from the street to the entrance into the building. Armed officers from the Diplomatic Protection Group patrol the exterior of the building along with security staff.
As it is with the Downing Street, Scotland Yard has had a lot of appearances in films and TV shows, but few film crews actually entered the premises, so the interior of the famous police station might surprise you, should you ever see it.