The failures that exposed Prince Charles and his wife the Duchess of Cornwall to the full wrath of a rioting crowd in one of the worst royal security breaches in decades must be investigated by a full independent inquiry, a member of parliament said in the aftermath of the tuition fees protest in central London on Friday.
Conservative backbencher Mark Pritchard said: “This was an incident that was so very serious — and could have been even more serious. There needs to be an independent inquiry, given the many questions that need to be answered about why the royals took that route.”
Images of a cowering Camilla and Charles, stranded in their vintage Rolls Royce Phantom VI as demonstrators rocked the car, smashed their window and hurled paintbombs, dominated media across the globe yesterday. Ensuring the safety of the couple was the responsibility of London’s Metropolitan police’s (the Met’s) Royalty Protection Specialist Operations unit.
Key to any probe will be explanations from the Special Escort Group (SEG), the armed motorcyclists who travel as outriders providing protection for traveling royals. Riding ahead, looking for trouble, several were accompanying the couple as they made their way to the London Palladium theater for the Royal Variety Performance on Thursday. Other SEG officers were in a Jaguar back-up vehicle behind the royals’ car.
They were reportedly summoned to a briefing yesterday as the Met Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson defended the route, saying it had been “recced” minutes before and was clear. He blamed an “unpredictable movement of some numbers of demonstrators” for the resulting chaos in which the state limousine got stuck at 7:15pm in Regent Street. And he praised protection officers, who were armed, for their “restraint.”
Keith Vaz, chairman of the commons home affairs select committee, said members of parliament intended to quiz the home -secretary, Theresa May, over whether a breakdown in communications between riot police and protection officers had contributed to the incident.
Any inquiry will also question why protection officers did not choose an alternative route, which should be mapped out ahead of royal engagements for the express purpose of avoiding trouble.
“One of the principles of protection is to have alternative routes,” Dai Davies, former head of royal protection, told the BBC. “I would expect there to be at least three different routes. I’m surprised, and clearly the commissioner is embarrassed and surprised, there wasn’t better co-ordination between those in charge of protection and those marshalling and dealing with the riots we saw.”
There will also be questions over the choice of vehicle. Designed with especially large windows to display royals at events such as the Royal Variety Performance, it draws attention.
“Was it wise to take a car that was so distinctive through the middle of London during the aftermath of the biggest demonstration seen for years?” Vaz asked.
It was an irresistible target for the students who could clearly see its occupants. Protesters chanted “Off with their heads” and “Tory scum”; reports that one protester poked Camilla in the ribs with a stick through an open window were neither confirmed nor denied by officials at the couple’s London home, Clarence House.
Though clearly alarmed, Camilla swiftly regained her composure, telling well-wishers at the Royal Variety Performance: “I’m fine. There is a first time for everything.”