Now let the army guard us

Richard Kay

Last updated at 00:00 25 June 2003

PRINCE Charles wants to take royal security out of the hands of the police and make it the responsibility of the Army.

He has long believed that protection for himself, his sons and other royals would be better if it were handed over to regular soldiers and specialists, such as former serving members of the SAS.

His views emerged last night against the background of the astonishing blunders that allowed an intruder to gatecrash Prince William's 21st birthday party.

Yesterday Home Secretary David Blunkett offered another grovelling apology to the Royal Family as he told the Commons of an 'appalling' catalogue of failures in security at Windsor Castle last Saturday.

He promised action to prevent a repetition of the fiasco that let 'Comedy Terrorist' Aaron Barschak wearing a dress and disguised as Osama Bin Laden wander unchallenged into the castle and kiss Prince William on both cheeks.

But Mr Blunkett's words will do little to reduce the seething anger in the royal household.

Senior royals read Barschak's account of the way he was directed to William's party by a hapless policeman in yesterday's Mail with incredulity and exasperation.

Barschak told how he scaled three walls and two gates before reaching William's party, where he sang a song and was apprehended only after trying to order a glass of champagne.

The bungles are bound to lead to calls for changes in the way the royals are protected.

And it seems certain that Charles's attitude, which he first aired after Princess Diana's former police bodyguard Inspector Ken Wharfe sold a devastating memoir about his time at her side, will surface again.

He has long held reservations about the effectiveness of Scotland Yard's Royalty Protection Department.

The 400- strong elite squad guards both the royals and their homes around the clock and is headed by Commander Peter Loughborough.

It was set up in 1982 after the last serious security failure when a man broke into the Queen's bedroom at Buckingham Palace.

But a series of lapses has led to renewed speculation about its future. Some insiders have hinted that royal security could be passed to Special Branch, which guards Ministers.

Charles has told friends of his concerns that royal protection has become a 'cushy number.' But his central complaint has been one of trust.

After Inspector Wharfe's revelations he sought assurances from Metropolitan Police chief Sir John Stevens that it would never happen again.

Charles confided to friends, advisers and some politicians his belief that troops should take over royalty protection.

It is understood he envisages a similar two-tier system to the one that currently exists of plain clothes close protection officers and uniformed police patrolling palaces.

Under his scheme, armed serving soldiers would guard royal homes, while former members of the special forces would act as personal protection officers or PPOs.

Charles is also in favour of more private security for lesser ranked royals.

About 70 PPOs guard 17 members of the Royal Family on shifts 24 hours a day.

They also make up the 'special escort group' which provides protection for visiting royalty. Highest protection is provided for the Queen, Charles and William.

Together with the uniformed branch, which was manning the gates at Windsor Castle, royal protection costs the taxpayer around Pounds 30million a year.

Senior protection officers are unimpressed with Charles's ideas. They complain that they are often constrained from providing the level of security they would like because the royals are unwilling to provide sufficient details about their plans.

Yesterday an officer involved in policing at Windsor told the Mail they had received 'scant' details about William's party.

'All they were given was a guest list and notification that guests driving in would have a red W affixed to their windscreens. They felt sidelined as far as security was concerned.' It is understood William restricted details about the party from being circulated widely in order to prevent leaks to the media.

Now as City of London Police commander Frank Armstrong investigates what went wrong, his inquiry may have to focus on the limited information that was made available to officers.

Last night Barschak told the Mail: 'Security was non-existent but I have some sympathy for the police because they had been told by William that the security should be low key.'

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