The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) has levelled a ban on visible tattoos for its officers as part of a public image drive, after its commissioner claimed "visible tattoos damage the professional image" of the Met.

New recruits will not be allowed tattoos that cannot be covered by everyday clothing such as on the hands, neck and face, while currently serving officers will have to register their tattoos in the next month, or potentially face the sack.

The move comes as part of a thorough public image reboot for the MPS after a difficult year for public-police relations, with scandals such as the trial of Pc Simon Harwood, accused of killing newspaper salesman Ian Tomlinson, accusations of racism against Pc Alex MacFarlane towards a man in custody, and the release of the Hillsborough report last month.

A statement sent to the Met's 50,000 employees from Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe read that: "All visible tattoos damage the professional image of the Metropolitan Police Service.. with effect from the date of this announcement, tattoos on the face, or visible above a collar line, or on the hands are not permitted. All other tattoos must be covered."

met police

Tattoos on areas not easily covered will be banned under new rules

"It will be a requirement, by the Commissioner, that all officers and police staff with existing tattoos defined as 'visible' must register such tattoos as a formal written declaration to their line manager before 12 November 2012.

"Any officer or member of police staff who fails, without reasonable excuse, to declare and register an existing visible tattoo will be liable to disciplinary action. Such a failure is liable to be considered to be gross misconduct."

The Daily Mail reports that those from the South Pacific, who tattoo themselves for cultural purposes, will be concerned by the move, as well as potential recruits who have left the armed forces - where tattoos are commonplace.