n December 16, 1925 at George's dock Liverpool, The Princess Royal turned on the power for a massive pneumatic drill, thereby marking the official start of the first road tunnel beneath the Mersey . Completed nine years later and named Queensway by George V, the tunnel measured 2.13 miles long with four 9ft traffic lanes and two branch tunnels, one either side of the river.



Above: This fascinating drawing shows the layout of the original Mersey Tunnel complex as it was in the years immediately after the tunnel opening in 1934. The artwork was especially commissioned for the 1937 British magazine "Wonders of World Engineering".


In its first year of operation 3 million vehicles used the tunnel and by 1959 this figure had swollen to 11 million. The tunnel was already being congested at peak periods, causing gridlock in both Liverpool and Birkenhead. In 1968 some 17 million vehicles passed through the tunnel, while an astonishing 60,000 vehicles were recorded during a single 24-hour period.


When the tunnel was first opened policing was carried out – initially on a six-month basis – by Liverpool City Police and Birkenhead Borough Police. But having two forces created problems, so the Mersey Tunnel Authority asked the Home Office for permission to form their own police force.


This request was granted and the power given to the tunnel authority was under section 105 of the 1936 Liverpool Corporation Act, which said the MTJC “shall have the power to appoint any of their officers or servants to act as special constables for the policing of the tunnel”.


This act caused yet more problems as Special Constables couldn’t be paid as Traffic Officers, but held the office of constable. To comply with policing both counties served by the tunnel the Mersey Tunnel officers had to swear an oath in both Liverpool and Birkenhead, and then in January 1936 the Mersey Tunnel Police came into being.


The establishment on formation was two Inspectors, four Sergeants and 14 Constables, who carried out patrols using motorcycle combinations. To ensure regular patrols were maintained a running card was assigned to each officer along with a running time to regulate the patrol. This was cumbersome, though, and Mersey Tunnel officers heaved a sigh of relief when in 1972 the running cards were phased out.


As a primary duty of the Mersey Tunnel Police then and now is to ensure that traffic using the tunnel or approach roads does so as quickly and safely as possible it was important that regular patrols were maintained. Before the introduction of CCTV a breakdown, if not dealt with quickly, could lead to a major build back of traffic in less than five minutes.


As well as mobile patrols there was and still is a police officer at each tunnel entrance to supervise all traffic entering, as stringent rules are laid down as to the class of goods that may not be allowed into the tunnel, or that require a police escort.


By the 1950s a tidal flow traffic system was in use during the morning peak. The filtering of traffic was done by using large black boards with a big white arrow pointing to the next lane, and behind these boards, putting on a brave face, was an officer wearing a white coat. The officers were strategically positioned in the centre of the lane, indicating that approaching vehicles were to filter into the next lane – a terrifying task in the confines of a tunnel.


Stopping a vehicle inside the Queensway tunnel in order to speak to the driver about an alleged offence can be hazardous as the traffic lanes are only 9 ft wide, and this practice is frowned upon although sometimes it is necessary.


Objects sometimes need to be removed from the roadway, and in the mid-1960s an officer was killed by an HGV while trying to remove a dangerous item – despite following procedure. The lorry driver was subsequently prosecuted.


The Mersey Tunnel Police have always dealt with road traffic accidents that have occurred with the precincts of the tunnels and in the 1980s fatal RTAs were included. Selected officers attended a course in vehicle examination and on successful completion were appointed vehicle examiners under the Road Traffic Act 1988.



By 1968 traffic through the Mersey Tunnel had reached saturation point and something had to be done, so in January 1966 work commenced on a pilot tunnel which would eventually lead to the Wallasey tunnel, officially opened as the first phase in June 1971 by the Queen, and named Kingsway. The photograph here was taken at the Wallasey entrance on June 24 1971, on the occasion of the opening of the 2nd Mersey Tunnel (Submitted by Tony Roach). The second phase was opened in February 1974.



Mersey Tunnel Police Sergeant Alan Leitch


The MTP in Detail


he Mersey Tunnel Police of are a far cry from 1936. By 2006, the total strength was: 1 Chief Superintendent, 1 Chief inspector, 5 Inspectors, 15 Sergeants, 60 Constables (9 of who are WPCs). They are divided into five teams or sections working a three-shift system, giving 24-hour cover under the supervision of a sergeant or inspector. The Superintendent and

Chief Inspector are always on call should an emergency dictate their presence.


The HQ is at the Wallasey entrance to the Kingsway tunnel and is located in an elevated building spanning the tollbooths. The building consists of a large control room with two banks of CCTV monitors covering both tunnels, approaches, entrances, interiors and exits. Radio contact is maintained by both mobile and foot patrols with a direct link to the Merseyside Police control room and other emergency services.



nitially little training was given with experience being gained by the hands on approach, apart from some instruction on the Road Traffic Act, and the Mersey Tunnel by-laws. In 1962 there was considerable re-organisation with the appointment of the ex Chief Superintendent Sparks from the Liverpool City police who took up this appointment as Superintendent of the Mersey Tunnel Police.

One of his responsibilities was training which in the beginning was carried out by him, but he later organised training with the Liverpool City police.


In 1967 Superintendent Sparks retired and was replaced by ex Chief Superintendent Ridge also from the Liverpool City police. It was from this time that all future training was carried out internally. On his retirement it was decided that all future MT police Superintendent posts would be filled internally and Inspectors and Sergeants now carried out training after attending the necessary courses to qualify as police instructors.


As most incidents that occur in the tunnels are in contravention of the Road Traffic Act, the construction and use Regs or the Mersey Tunnel by-laws, the emphasis is centred on these acts but the training programme also provides probationer Constables with the necessary skills, knowledge, attitudes and understanding to enable them to carry out their duties as Mersey Tunnel Police officers in a professional manner. Today the initial training course is sixteen-weeks in duration with some of the time being spent undertaking supervised police duties with a tutor Constable.


Constables during their probationary period are monitored as to their performance levels and all officers are kept well informed and up to date with their new legislation or point of law that may affect their efficiency. The course is in modular format and follows very closely Home Office training. Because the Mersey Tunnels Police is a small force compared with others, there was never a need to sit promotion exams as senior officers are well aware of suitability of an officer to fill a vacancy, (as that officer has already filled in for holiday's etc as acting Sergeant or Inspector). This does not mean that it is a foregone conclusion that he/she will automatically gain promotion, as the officer would be expected to attend a selection board before a decision was made.


The Mersey Tunnel Police also train their officers to deal with any incident or situation that may arise. Approximately 85,000 vehicles per day using the tunnels. One of the greatest concerns is a fire or explosion. If a vehicle catches fire it obviously comes to a halt, consequently traffic queues form especially to the rear of the vehicle. Typically, traffic will have stopped too close to the vehicle in front and as a result the fire could cause a domino effect, the result being tragic. Whilst awaiting the arrival of the emergency service (which could very well be delayed because of the traffic conditions) the Mersey Tunnel Police would be the first on the scene therefore must be proficient in fire fighting and first aid. These skills are an important part of their initial training programme with refresher courses being held every couple of years. Training has improved drastically over the years and the Mersey Tunnel Police can claim the distinction of being the best trained and equipped non Home Office police service in the U.K. Last year the Mersey Tunnels Police dealt with 5,000 incidents.



hen the Mersey Tunnel (Queensway) was opened the civilian police used motorcycles and carried no emergency equipment but when the Mersey Tunnel Police officially took over in 1936 motorcycle combinations were decided to be the best means of transport. It is not recorded if any emergency equipment was carried at this stage but it is highly unlikely

because of the limited space.



In the 1940's the combinations were gradually phased out in favour of Ford vans, these were black and had windows either side the length of the van, they also had two police stop signs on top front and rear that could be illuminated. The vehicles carried basic emergency equipment, towrope, and bucket of sand, shovel, axe and two fire extinguishers. It was in 1955 that Land Rovers were first brought into service, these vehicles were specially adapted with the back of the cab cut away which gave all round better vision for the driver, sides that dropped down and a top that lifted up for easy access to emergency equipment. These vehicles carried

the equipment that was carried in the vans only this time with the addition of extra fire extinguishers and a 'skate' (this was a device made a steel with four small wheels that was used if a car or van had a flat tyre). The skate would be fitted underneath the wheel with the flat tyre which could be towed out of the tunnel, one big advantage these vehicles had over vans is they converted into 4x4 (four wheel drive) with a push of a lever giving more pulling power. These vehicles also had a raised roof with a police sign central between the bottom of the windscreen and bottom of the cab with the addition of a green light either side. The colours of these vehicles were cream with brown front wing panels that displayed the MTJC crest on either sides. Also, each door had the wording Mersey Tunnel Joint Committee. By 1965 the front panels had been sprayed cream.


This type of vehicle was unique to the Mersey Tunnel Police and was to remain in service with the addition of stream lining until the mid 1970's when it was replaced with the standard Land Rover that could carry more emergency equipment. These vehicles were used in both tunnels. The Land Rover was to remain in service until 1991 when the Land Rover Discovery, which is still in service today, together with Ford Transit vans, the workhorse of the Mersey Tunnel Police, along with the Ford Galaxy.


All Mersey Tunnel Police vehicles carry quite a comprehensive range of emergency equipment but the Ford Transit's are used to escort dangerous loads through the tunnels, carry considerably more. All livery and markings are the same as the Home Office police forces throughout the U.K.



or the first few years the Mersey Tunnel Police wore high-neck tunic jackets displaying the officer’s force number in chrome with MTJC also in chrome on the epaulettes. Because of the motorcycle combinations the officers wore jodhpurs with detachable leggings; these extended from the ankle to the top of the knee and were held in place with black metallic fasteners at the



When the motorcycles were replaced by Morris vans the wearing of jodhpurs ceased, and since that time the uniform has favoured the Liverpool City Police and then the Merseyside Police. In the 1960s a white top to the cap was introduced, detachable for easy cleaning and made of cotton. Later, a one-piece cap with white plastic top was introduced. In 1991 the diced black and white cap band was adopted.


With the introduction of the open-neck tunic jacket the officer’s number was positioned above the MTJC on the epaulettes. In 1996 Paula Darlington became the first female civilian brought in to manage the Mersey Tunnels Police and through her efforts the Queen’s Crown came into being on the cap badge. She was also responsible for obtaining the police duty belt, speed cuffs and expandable baton, etc. These days the general public could be forgiven for not noticing any difference in dress and personal equipment compared with regular police officers.

Copyright © 2019 British Police History. All Rights Reserved. Terms of Use