The biggest security operation yet mounted in Britain will oversee Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral on Monday, a Metropolitan Police chief has revealed.
With leaders arriving from 185 countries, it will also be the largest close protection event for not only Britain’s police forces but possibly the biggest in the world.
Officers have been drafted in from across the UK and will come from Wales and Scotland as well the Channel Islands and Gibraltar with more than 10,000 expected for the funeral.
Exceptional measures are being taken with snipers, facial recognition technology, drones, horses and dogs all deployed.
The high alert led police divers to arrest a man swimming in the River Thames on Friday morning wearing a GoPro camera on his head. He was later released after providing evidence that he was on a charity swim.
One million mourners
With a million people and 36 kilometres of barriers lining the funeral procession route from Westminster to Windsor Castle it will be a “hugely significant day” for the nation and the royal family, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Stuart Cundy told a media briefing.
“I can confirm that this will be the largest single policing event that the Met Police has ever undertaken,” he said.
“Such is the unique nature of what we have been dealing with … it's something that we'll never be able to compare the like of, not just in the past, but also in the future.”
The occasion far outweighs the pressure of the 2012 Olympic Games in London or the queen’s recent platinum jubilee.
By Friday there had been 34 arrests related to the funeral for a variety of offences, DAC Cundy said, although none was a result of anti-monarchy protests.
Potentially some were from the estimated 10,000 people who are wanted by police ― persons of interest or “fixated individuals” ― who are on a special watchlist that can be picked up by facial recognition technology. This also has the ability to assess if people are loitering in certain areas, such as on the London Underground.
Leaders on buses
Close protection officers from around the UK will join those in London in a hugely challenging role in shielding world leaders, and their partners, from the 185 countries with which Britain has full diplomatic ties.
“This will be the largest global protection operation that the Met Police has ever undertaken.
"We will have hundreds of world leaders, UK leaders, and VIPs here in London,” DAC Cundy said. “It is a hugely complex operation.”
To ensure safety and timings are kept, heads of state will meet at a west London location where they will be bused to the abbey. This has caused some consternation among foreign dignitaries whose leaders are more used to private limousines. This will include Japan’s Emperor Naruhito, who is on his first foreign trip since acceding to the throne in 2019.
The Foreign Office-led operation has been called the equivalent of organising 100 state visits at once, with the potential for a “diplomatic incident” high, particularly if individuals from hostile states are accidently placed next to each other either in the abbey on the bus.
Diplomatic ties have been severed with Russia and Belarus over the Ukraine invasion and Myanmar after the military coup last year. Similarly, poor relations with Syria, Venezuela and Afghanistan mean they have not been invited either.
But the limit on space also means there is no invitation for former US president Barack Obama, who had a good relationship with Queen Elizabeth, or Donald Trump.
Liz Truss, Britain’s new prime minister, will use the occasion to meet select world leaders over the weekend, including President Joe Biden as well as the prime ministers of Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the Irish Republic and the Polish president.
Britain’s special forces, which are on constant standby for a terrorist attack, are expected to bolster their numbers in the capital and elsewhere to be on hand for any incident.
Officers have urged members of the public to contact them if they spot any suspicious activity, including alerting officers lining the funeral procession route.
“As part of staying safe we need everybody to keep the vigilance and if there are any concerns that people have to raise it with the police officers,” DAC Cunday said.
They are also wary of people using private drones to film the event or for more malign reasons. The Met confirmed it had already spoken to 11 drone operators flying the unmanned vehicles over the city warning them that there was a no-fly zone in force around central London.
DAC Cundy said the priority was to “ensure that the state funeral is safe” and because it is a time of national mourning “everybody who's attending will have that in mind and be hugely respectful”.