With hundreds of thousands expected to hit the streets of London for a ceremonial procession on Wednesday, a former UK counter-terrorism co-ordinator has warned that the security challenges around the Queen’s funeral are “enormous”.
In addition to the large crowds that will gather on Wednesday when Queen Elizabeth’s coffin moves from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Hall – where the former monarch will remain in state until September 19 – officials are dealing with the logistics of holding of a funeral attended by hundreds of world leaders and dignitaries.
“I think it’s a different quantum of risk,” said Nick Aldworth, who has held many high-level positions in his three-decade career as a public safety official, including chief security officer. and police in the British Parliament, managing the security of the Queen Mother. and firearms coordinator for the 2012 London Olympics.
Aldworth, who is now a private consultant, says the 2012 Games presented a major security challenge, but the Queen’s mourning period and state funeral are even more complex.
“The difference between the Olympics and this event is that the Olympics take place over three weeks,” Aldworth told CBC from his home in North Oxfordshire, England.
The Queen’s funeral is ‘probably the same number of people, the same number of visiting dignitaries, compressed into a few dayss.”
The current terror threat level in the UK is “substantial”, meaning an attack is likely, and thousands more officers will be deployed to events in London over the next six days.
Aldworth, who was appointed as the UK’s national counter-terrorism co-ordinator in 2018, says the area where the Queen will reside in the state already has semi-permanent security measures in place, such as barriers to prevent vehicles to enter the crowd.
Many roads between Buckingham Palace and Westminster Hall have been closed to traffic and metal fencing has been installed.
Britain has seen a series of deadly attacks, including IRA bombings in the 1980s and 1990s which in some cases targeted politicians and the military. The most recent attacks include the 2017 Attack on London Bridge and the Manchester Arena bombings, but Aldworth says the police also have “a long history of disrupting terrorism”.
“The assurance people should take is that this central footprint where most [mourning] ongoing activity will be incredibly well protected,” he said.
Police have come under fire for arresting three people in Edinburgh for breach of the peace, as they protested against the monarchy as the Queen’s coffin was moved to Scotland.
After a man was questioned by officers in London for holding up a blank sheet of paper on which he said he wanted to write ‘Not my king’, Met Police released a statement saying that the public has the right to protest.
Aldworth says a challenge will be managing the transport system, given the number of people from outside central London who are expected to descend into the area.
Transport for London (TFL), a local government authority, has warned that services will be busy and some Tube stations may be closed in order to control crowds.
TFL says people crossing Westminster Hall to pass the Queen’s coffin will be subject to airport-style security check and are not allowed to have large backpacks.
front of the line
People started queuing along the River Thames opposite Westminster Hall for the chance to pay their respects to the Queen on Monday afternoon, 48 hours before the start of the rest period in London.
Vanessa Nanthakumaran, 56, was the first person in line and plans to get through the two-day wait with the help of friends and even strangers bringing her food and hot drinks.
“We’re well looked after,” she told CBC, adding that she wanted to get in line early because she’s admired the royal family since she was a young girl growing up in Sri Lanka.
Nanthakumaran spoke as he sat on a small stool along the river, but organizers say that from 5 p.m. London time on Wednesday the queue will keep moving as people in Mourners may file past the casket 24 hours a day. People may have to wait in line for hours and organizers say they should expect to be on their feet most of the time.
Grace Gothard, who was third in line, slept on the pavement by the river on Tuesday evening, saying the only downside was the cold night air.
“When there’s something important in your life, you don’t mind doing it, whether it’s hard or easy,” said Gothard, who moved to the UK from Ghana in 1985.
Beside her, on a mattress, was a jar of marmalade with a picture of Paddington Bear, a reference to a viral video the queen took part in its platinum jubilee celebrations earlier this year.
Mourners will be able to file past the Queen’s coffin until 6.30am on September 19.
The funeral will take place later in the morning at 11 a.m. They will be closed to the public but in the presence of family, heads of state and other foreign dignitaries.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will attend, as well as US President Joe Biden.
Some media have reported tips this suggests that for logistical reasons, foreign dignitaries have been advised to fly commercial rather than private aircraft, as Healthrow Airport will not be able to handle an increase in private flights. They would also be forced to travel by bus en masse to Westminster Abbey for the funeral, instead of a private car, to reduce the number of vehicles in central London.