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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 March 2008, 11:22 GMT
How do police operations get their names?
The Magazine answers...

Operation Julie
Names are rarely used
Evidence from alleged anti-terror police operations Seagram and Overt is due to be heard in forthcoming court trials. How do police operations get such odd codenames?

One was named after a small town in Tennessee, another after a popular dog breed.

Every police operation is given a name and, more often than not, they leave the public wondering just how officers came up with it.

In recent years bizarre monikers have included Operation Crevice, Operation Barkertown, Operation Zoomania and Operation Bagel. The recent trial of Thomas Hughes (convicted this month of murdering pregnant woman Krystal Hart after a neighbours' dispute) was called Operation Caprock. Caprock is apparently a geological term for an area of hard rock which covers a softer rock.

Police forces across the UK pick names off a list, which means - in theory - they will have no connection with the case

The names come from an approved list that has been decided in advance. They can be anything from exotic birds to towns on the south coast.

"You pick one off the list," says Bob Cox, the recently retired head of press with the Metropolitan Police.


The aim is to choose names that are completely neutral so they will hopefully be totally unrelated to the case. This system dates back to the 1980s.

"They brought it in after the unfortunately named Operation Swamp in 1981," says John Twomey of the Crime Reporters' Association.

Operation Arundel - child sex abuse inquiry which led to conviction of TV personality Jonathan King
Operation Crypton - investigation into corruption in horse racing, which led to acquittal of jockey Kieren Fallon
Operation Magician - surveillance and arrest of Millennium Dome robbers
Operation Nigeria - ongoing investigation into the unsolved murder of private detective Daniel Morgan in 1987
Operation Sumac - inquiry into the Ipswich prostitute murders. A sumac is a north American plant

"It involved swamping the inner cities with police to deal with street robberies among a small number of poor, black kids. They have been dealing with the backlash ever since."

"Usually the anodyne names chosen masks the horror. But sometimes they can be quite inappropriate. I remember a few years ago there was a particularly horrible murder which was called Operation Poodle."

Occasionally the senior investigating officer in a case will veto a name which he thinks is inappropriate, he adds.

"Obviously it's a million-to-one coincidence but if you are running an investigation into paedophiles you don't want a name which would sound sick so they can veto it."


It is a UK-wide list and shared between all police forces to prevent operations in different parts of the country being given the same name. But that does not mean there is not occasional confusion with global police operations.

In March 2005 two computer software pirates were convicted at the Old Bailey at the end of Operation Blossom, which was launched by Britain's National Hi-Tech Crime Unit.

A regular part of the BBC News Magazine, Who, What, Why? aims to answer some of the questions behind the headlines
Confusingly Operation Blossom was the UK offspring of Operation Buccaneer, which was launched by the United States Customs Service in 2000.

Unlike hurricanes, which use people's names, police operations are rarely given ordinary names.

One of the few exceptions was Operation Julie, given to one of the largest drugs busts in British history, when six million tabs of LSD were recovered by police in North Wales in March 1977.

The system is only for operations which are launched in reaction to specific crimes. Pro-active police operations are often given specific names which are designed to be meaningful.

For example, the Metropolitan Police currently has an anti-knife crime initiative called Operation Blunt and it also has Operation Payback, which involves seizing the assets of organised criminals.


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