Royal Watch: Intruder Alert!

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One might think that security around the British royal family would be watertight, but sometimes the frailties are all too evident.

By Chris Ritchie

In 1982, unemployed father-of-four Michael Fagan climbed up a drainpipe and broke into the Queen’s bedroom in Buckingham Palace, where he stayed chatting to her for 10 minutes (although he refutes the fact, suggesting that he was quickly ushered into a nearby pantry). Whatever the case, the alarm bells rang louder than ever in the British royal household. How could anyone be allowed to enter the very heart of the British royals’ territory?

Of course, that incident is not alone. The latest audacious attempt took place at the start of September. Two men were arrested following an attempted break-in at Buckingham Palace, apparently with the aim of stealing the Coronation Jewels.

They didn’t make it too far though – one man was apprehended in a part of the palace that is at times open to the public, but not at 10.30pm. He had scaled a 12ft fence to gain entry to the state rooms and, having set off a motion sensor, was reportedly caught while trying to smash a door open with a fire extinguisher. His reward for such a feat was being arrested for trespass, burglary and criminal damage. His alleged accomplice was halted outside the palace on a charge of conspiracy to commit burglary. Both were released on bail.

Naturally these incidents will prompt a major review of current security measures. Fortunately for the burglars, perhaps, no members of the royal family were present during the break-in – the Queen and her close family were away on their summer holiday at Balmoral Castle in Scotland. This led some observers to speculate that security was not as tight given the absence of the royals, and if they had been there, the burglars might have been tackled with more serious force.

There have been other recent attempts to breach royal security. In 2011, the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall, Charles and Camilla, were attacked in their car by a mob of angry students, protesting against higher tuition fees. Someone managed to poke Camilla with a stick through an open window.

Further back in 1994, while attending a ceremony in Sydney, Australia, Charles was charged at by a man firing a starting pistol. Charles reacted very calmly as two local officials dealt with the trouble. And in 1981, even more audaciously, someone fired blank shots at the Queen, who was riding a horse, during the annual Trooping the Colour ceremony, while Princess Anne was lucky to escape a kidnap attempt in 1974 when her car was targeted.

Although the motivation is often unclear – mental illness seems to figure in most of the security breaches – there’s a clear lesson here: the royals will always be targets for those looking to make a name for themselves.