The rise of balaclava-clad riot police, caught on camera over the death of innocent G20 bystander Ian Tomlinson, has exposed a disturbing new police tactic, with masked, unidentifiable officers now deployed in a chilling throw-back to the days of the discredited and now disbanded Special Patrol Group and the death of teacher Blair Peach. Are the police in danger of taking the law into their own hands?
The masked police thug caught on camera and seen by millions assaulting a man at the G20 protests minutes before he died, finally came forward last night.
But disturbingly the Guardian reports "fresh pictures suggested he had removed his shoulder number and covered his face with a balaclava before hitting Ian Tomlinson with a baton and pushing him to the ground last week."
The officer, from the Territorial Support Group (TSG), is part of a squad of officers who view themselves as the 'elite', now becoming common place on our streets as the unidentifiable balaclava brigade.
Watching the Guardian video footage of the sickening unprovoked attack, the Orange Party was not alone in raising questions about the balaclava-clad assailant: "What is equally disturbing is that the officer is heavily masked with no shoulder number and only the words "MP" for Metropolitan Police on his helmet."
That tactic of wearing a balaclava to hide the identity of specialist riot squad officers from prying eyes, is increasingly being used in crowd control tactics.
On the surface it seems worthwhile. It prevents the officer from being identified in any reprisal in what is often a dangerous job and helps prevents any facial injuries.
The Orange Party has no quarrel with that. Nor with the work of specialist police often at the sharp and dangerous end, dealing with the nasty criminal and terrorist underbelly which simmers near the surface of society.
But the use of balaclava clad officers was also highly visible at the North Lindsey Oil refinery during the BJ4BW protests (opposite). Clearly then it wasn't just the cold which was being kept away.
And that raises the sinister spectre of a political police force used to control the 'English mob' during legitimate and justified protests.
The TSG is an operations unit of the Met, specialising in public order. It is no stranger to the streets of London nor the provinces and replaced the controversial Special Patrol Group (SPG) in 1987.
Officers should be identified as TSG from the 'U' in their shoulder or 'collar' number, which was not visible in the assault on Tomlinson who was not part of the demonstration and was assaulted from behind and pushed to the ground by a masked baton-wielding TSG officer.
Senior police officers have condemned the assault saying there is no excuse for what he did and at the very least he had committed a serious disciplinary offence and a criminal assault.
The rise of the balaclava brigade marks a disturbing trend reminiscent of the disreputable antics of the SPG which it replaced and the death of innocent bystander Blair Peach.
The SPG's most controversial incident came in 1979 when teacher Blair Peach died as a result of alleged police brutality during a demonstration in London.
Inquiries found SPG officers with baseball bats, crowbars and sledgehammers as part of their armoury.
Police brutality was never proven but it was claimed Peach had fallen to a blow from a lead-filled cosh or rubberised police radio belonging to the SPG.
The current trend towards a police state is unacceptable but the danger lies when the police, as agents of the state, take the law into their own hands with tacit approval of their political masters.
UPDATE 7pm: The TSG officer at the centre of the assault has been suspended.
Top Picture: Still from Guardian video footage of Tomlinson assault