Police gear up for huge security operation as royal wedding coincides with FA Cup final
For those in charge of ensuring the safety, security and transport of Britain’s wedding-going and football-loving public, this Saturday represents something of a perfect storm. Within an eight-hour period and a 30-mile radius, police – aided either discretely or conspicuously by bodies from the SAS to a small army of volunteer marshals, will have to complete the task of securely shepherding the royal couple, their 1,800 or so guests and 100,000 onlookers around the confines of Windsor before then turning their attention to the FA Cup final.
“You have a crowd that is largely unsearched, who could have anything on them, from weapons, to paint, to graffiti, to maggots, to confetti, all of which pose a threat.” Bob Broadhurst, former Scotland Yard commander
More than 3,000 officers – one for every 30 members of the public expected to line the wedding procession route – from Thames Valley Police and other forces including the Metropolitan Police will be deployed in one of the biggest security operations seen in Windsor, even for a town well used to the red-carpeted upheaval of royal shindigs.
As the crowds are making their way home from the royal borough, some 90,000 followers of Manchester United and Chelsea will be making their way to Wembley Stadium in west London to see whether Jose Mourinho’s side can secure a record-equalling 13th FA Cup triumph.
In so doing, they will place a further load on resources from policing to the rail network. Beyond a conspicuous uniformed presence at Windsor, there will be substantial behind-the-scenes activity ranging from drone jamming devices to enforce a no-fly zone above the entire Windsor Castle estate to the placing of counter-terrorism teams (supported by military special forces if necessary) to intervene in the event of an attack. The operation began as long as two months ago with checks on thousands of manhole covers and drains before moving into full swing in the last seven days with the installation of anti-vehicle barriers and intensive searches by sniffer dogs as well as the patrols by armed officers.
A police dog strains at the leash as it walks with its handler ahead of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding, in Windsor, (REUTERS/Marko Djurica)
Among the counter-measures in place are random searches of lorries and other goods vehicles as well as the use of number plate recognition technology to check all vehicles coming into the Berkshire town.
One counter-terrorism officer involved with the planning told i: “The name of the game is to plan for every scenario. It’s a balancing act – the vast majority [of people] will be there to enjoy the spectacle and occasion, others might want to protest and we will be ready for anything else. It will be a busy day – there will be a few people looking forward to a sit down once it’s all over.”
The most sensitive part of the Windsor policing operation is the planned ride at 1pm in the open-topped Ascot-Landau carriage by Prince Harry and Meghan Markle through Windsor after the midday wedding ceremony.
Despite the presence of plain clothes officers, helicopter surveillance and an SAS squadron trained to deal with scenarios from a knife attack against onlookers to an assault on the royal couple’s carriage itself, senior officers acknowledge it will be the moment of highest vigilance. Former Scotland Yard commander Bob Broadhurst, who was in charge of policing for the London Olympics and the 2011 wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, said: “The carriage is several hundred years old, it’s unprotected, it’s not ballistic proof, it’s not bullet-proof, it’s not stab-proof – it’s nothing proof. “You have a crowd that is largely unsearched, who could have anything on them, from weapons, to paint, to graffiti, to maggots, to confetti, all of which pose a threat.”
Thames Valley Police has refused to disclose the amount it expects to spend on its security operation, or even the codename being given to one of the largest undertakings in the force’s history.
Estimates of GBP30m are considered to be wide of the mark and the final bill is likely to be closer to the GBP6m spent on the policing of the wedding of Prince William and then Kate Middleton. With royal well-wishers travelling from the north-west of England advised to leave as early as 4am, the single-most labour-intensive element of the day is doubtless the more prosaic matter of ensuring the public can get to and from their chosen event. Some 2.3km of fencing has been put in place at various stations between London Paddington and Windsor’s two stations to manage queues of the 60,000 people expected to travel to the town by train.
Rail companies are putting on extra trains with more carriages but even that might not be enough to accommodate all-comers – police have warned that if platforms or the procession route becomes over-crowded they may have to order trains to miss Windsor and latecomers will miss the occasion.
British Transport Police said its advice to anyone travelling either to Windsor or Wembley was to leave plenty of time to complete the journey. A spokeswoman said: “It will be busy everywhere and we will have extra officers on duty across London. We would advise people to travel early and allow plenty of time.”
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