Buckingham Palace security breach rings alarm bells in Britain

The Queen was calm and courageous, but Britain wants to know the answers to two urgent questions:

1. How could the security around Buckingham Palace have been breached so badly that a man found his way to her bedroom and sat on her bed for 10 minutes before being removed by a footman?

It was the latest in a series of breaches in the security wall in recent months despite a sizable police detachment on duty 24 hours a day and a battery of electronic sensors and closed-circuit television cameras.

2. What can now be done to ensure that such an incident never happens again?

Members of Parliament were aghast July 12 as they read the first account of the affair in the Daily Express newspaper, and then heard Home Secretary William Whitelaw confirm to the House of Commons the same afternoon that it had happened and that security had been lax.

What could have happened, they asked, if the man had been a terrorist, or unbalanced enough to try to use a gun?

Once again, Britain was confronted with the dangers to public figures in the modern age. The royal family is by no means immune. But the brazen nature of the latest incident has upset so many people here that it may be the catalyst to persuade Home Office officials (in charge of London's police) and those in the royal household to take sterner and more drastic action.

Queen Elizabeth II, who looked serene and assured as she attended a service in St. Paul's Cathedral for the 60th anniversary of the BBC July l2, was said to have remained calm during the incident on the night of July 9.

Later, however, she was reported to have been angry that such a flagrant breach of security could have occurred.

Normally, the 10-foot high walls of the palace, and the human and electronic protection in and around it, are enough to protect the royal family. But they failed to detect or stop three West German tourists who climbed the palace wall on June 19 last year and slept there overnight thinking they were in nearby Hyde Park.

The walls also failed to keep out a man who was found roaming palace grounds saying he wanted to see Princess Anne, with whom he claimed to be infatuated.

A man has been charged in London with stealing half a bottle of wine from the palace June 7. There is widespread speculation here that he is the same man now being held after the July 9 incident.

A Scotland Yard inquiry into the latest episode has already produced a preliminary report and another is expected in a few days.

Members of Parliament and police sources complain that police do not like duty at Buckingham Palace, saying it is boring work because of all the electronic devices.

In the latest incident, a man was said to have sat on the Queen's bed for 10 minutes and finally to have asked for a cigarette. Showing presence of mind, the Queen said she had none in the room and persuaded the man to let her go to the door and call a footman. When he came in, the man was detained.

After previous incidents, as Mr. Whitelaw said July 12, security around the palace had been improved. Barbed wire had been put up in some places. Guards now patrol inside and out.

Clearly, more will now be done. It is suggested that other royal residences, such as Windsor Castle and the homes of Prince Charles and his family, will now be better protected than before.

''Utterly incredible and breathtaking,'' is how Conservative MP Harry Greenway described the latest episode at Buckingham Palace. ''Absolutely disgraceful,'' said Conservative Party chairman, Sir Willam Clark.

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