Colossal numbers of mourners are expected to descend on London over the coming week while Britain’s longest serving monarch Queen Elizabeth II lies in state before her state funeral. This poses a “massive challenge” for the Metropolitan Police, the new commissioner of the force Sir Mark Rowley said on Monday.
Mile-long queues stretching along the streets of Westminster are expected to form from Wednesday as the Met Police brace for an influx of “millions of people who want to pay their respects” to the late sovereign. Security will be watertight and those wishing to visit Westminster Hall to view the queen's coffin will be subject to strict entry requirements.
The ceremonial procession to transport her remains from Buckingham Palace to Parliament on Tuesday will require a massive sweep of the route, which will be walked by King Charles III, Queen Consort Camilla and other members of the royal family.
'Many years of preparations'
Thousands of officers, many who have been drafted in during holidays and days off, will form part of the high-security mission known as Operation London Bridge to secure the capital for one of its largest events in recent years.
Speaking on his first day as Met Police commissions, Sir Mark said that following a recent review of the long-standing plans, the force was ready for the major event.
“It’s a massive challenge for the Metropolitan Police and for me personally, but we have been preparing for many, many years,” Sir Mark told Sky News.
“There are some very diligent and determined people who have put a lot of effort into this, and indeed myself in my previous roles in the Metropolitan Police five or six years ago, I was involved in some of that planning and I have been involved in a review recently.
“But most of all, I have a lot of trust and confidence in the fantastic police officers who are going to support this event and help make it safe. They have been working with colleagues from across government and the royal household and others, as you would expect.
“We will have a safe event but we will be putting thousands of officers into this because of the level of security required and the millions of people who want to pay their respects.”
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Sir Mark has taken over as head of the Met during what is arguably one of its most turbulent times. He was appointed to the role after former boss Dame Cressida Dick quit earlier this year.
He, along with his new deputy Dame Lynne Owens, who used to be the director of the National Crime Agency, swore allegiance to the king on Monday morning and pledged to rebuild public trust.
The Met's deputy assistant commissioner Stuart Cundy has described the run-up to the queen's funeral as a "hugely complex operation".
The queen’s coffin will be flown from Scotland to London on Tuesday, accompanied by her daughter Princess Anne. After being transported by the state hearse from RAF Northolt to Buckingham Palace, the coffin will be placed in the ballroom so that members of the royal household can pay their respects.
At 2.22pm (5.22pm UAE) on Wednesday, the monarch’s body will be taken from the palace to Westminster Hall by gun carriage. The ceremonial procession route will go through Queen’s Gardens, The Mall, Horse Guards and Horse Guards Arch, Whitehall, Parliament Street, Parliament Square and New Palace Yard. Tens of thousands of mourners are expected to line the streets to watch the remains of the monarch, who reigned for 70 years, pass by. The king and his wife will lead the procession of royal mourners walking behind the coffin, joined by royal household staff.
Upon arrival at Parliament on Wednesday afternoon, the queen will lie in state in Westminster Hall from 5pm until 6.30am on Monday, September 19, giving members of the public the chance to walk past her remains and pay their respects. The opportunity will remain 24 hours a day during this six-day period.
The government has advised people wishing to attend to prepare “to queue for many hours, possibly overnight”.
Lines of people will file past the coffin, but will be kept at a distance. Each corner of the platform on which the casket rests will be guarded around the clock by a vigil of units from the Sovereign’s Bodyguard, the Household Division, or Yeoman Warders of the Tower of London.
Dating back to the 17th century, the honour is reserved for well-known figures and monarchs and takes place in a state building. The last member of the royal family to lie in state in Westminster Hall was the Queen Mother in 2002, which prompted 200,000 people to flock to the venue to bid farewell.
While security is tight on any given day at the doors of the Houses of Parliament, management will have to make extra efforts to ensure adequate checks are carried out on the mass crowds of royal admirers bidding farewell to the queen. Those attending should expect “airport-style security” and “tight restrictions on what you can take in”, guidance published on the government’s website said. Small bags will be permitted but larger carrier items will not be permitted.
Additional barriers are expected to be erected on the streets outside Parliament for crowd control, and security staff will be drafted in to deal with any issues.
The levels of traffic in the Westminster area is expected to be increase significantly as many people, including tourists, will use taxis to reach Parliament.
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A rehearsal for the funeral procession is likely to take place on Thursday, the exact details of which have not been released. It is thought there are plans for the royal coffin to progress to the church on a gun carriage, and the military will be expected to line the short route.
Before the moving of the coffin from Westminster Hall to nearby Westminster Abbey early on Monday, officers will have to do a thorough sweep of the area.
Heads of state from across the globe are expected to start arriving in the UK at the weekend before the funeral at Westminster Abbey at 11am (2pm UAE) on Monday.
A leaked memo reported by Politico suggests foreign dignitaries will have to travel to the Abbey by coach as state cars — including US President Joe Biden’s 18-foot tank known as 'The Beast’ — have been banned.
Following the church service, the queen’s coffin will be taken to Windsor for a committal.
The queen’s funeral will be unlike anything witnessed in recent years. The last state funeral to take place in the UK was for the former prime minister Winston Churchill in 1965.
Princess Diana, who died in 1997, and the Queen Mother, who passed away in 2002, were both given ceremonial funerals.
Prince Philip’s funeral in April 2017 was significantly scaled down due to Covid-19 restrictions. Only 30 guests ― including the queen sitting alone ― were allowed into St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle to pay their respects in a socially distanced manner.