The Queen has privately expressed her concern about changes to her security, the Standard can reveal.
Scotland Yard has drastically reorganised the way the royal family is guarded and now provides armed protection officers from a pool on a rota system. This means officers are regularly changing, sometimes assigned to government ministers and sometimes to royalty.
The number of personal protection officers (PPOs) on the Queen’s security detail has not changed. However, due to the enforced rota system the officers can now come from a pool of back-up officers too.
A senior source said: “Her Majesty is not the only one who has expressed concerns. A number of senior officers are not happy either. Personal protection is all about building a relationship with the principal. How on earth is that supposed to happen if the officers are rotated every five minutes with new faces?”
The change is due to restructuring of pay and the formation of a merged Scotland Yard team that guards both royals and ministers called Royalty and Specialist Protection (RaSP), under Protection Command.
Before the restructuring, which began in April 2015, royals were guarded by the SO14 Royalty and Diplomatic Protection department. Each royal would be assigned a PPO, in charge of round-the-clock security, who would head up a team. The PPO would forge a close working relationship with the royal.
That department was merged with Specialist Protection (SO1) to create RaSP, which now provides personal protection for the royal family, the Prime Minister, ministers, ambassadors, visiting heads of state and other VIPs. It also protects royal residences in London, Windsor and Scotland and operates the Special Escort Group.
Before the merger, royalty officers were paid an allowance to compensate them for long and anti-social hours. But officers who guarded ministers were only paid overtime. The system had to be made uniform so the allowance was scrapped, with all royalty officers now paid overtime. The royal protection bill has since soared, with some officers clocking up overtime that takes their pay to more than £100,000 a year.
To reduce the bill Scotland Yard has had to bring in more officers from mainstream policing and train them, then rotate existing officers to meet demand. Today the Met said: “We are not prepared to discuss matters of security.”
Under the old system, the Queen could build up a rapport with her lead police officer. She has in the past had an armed officer of the rank of superintendent leading her team, who had a detailed understanding of the system and the royal household.
Ken Wharfe, ex-PPO to the late Diana, Princess of Wales, said: “The security will be less effective. Understanding the behaviours of the person you are charged with protecting is crucial. Understanding the machinations of the royal household is very important too.
“If you are from a pool, one minute looking after a Cabinet minister and the next a member of the royal family, how are you able to build up that rapport with the principal? It doesn’t make sense. No wonder Her Majesty has privately expressed her disquiet.”
Buckingham Palace told the Standard: “We never comment on anonymously sourced reports claiming to represent the Queen’s private views. Security is a matter for the police.”
The changes are causing uneasiness among royalty officers, many of whom had been with SO14 for years. After some were informed by email that they were “no longer in post”, many threatened to operate under 40-hour week EU guidelines. However, the changes were brought in and many of the old guard have opted for retirement rather than extending their service.
A figure has not been published about the cost of royal security. Royal and VIP protection together is estimated to cost £128 million a year. The Met, which has struggled to reduce a fifth of its budget, has insisted that any restructuring is not about cost-cutting and that changes would never compromise safety.
A source said: “No matter what anyone says, money is the issue here. Once the allowances were scrapped in the merger and everyone put on overtime this was bound to happen. The bill has gone through the roof and now to stop officers putting in large overtime bills they are rotated far more often. For the first time it seems Scotland Yard is putting a price on protecting the royal family. In the past this was not even a consideration — security came first.”
The changes will affect the security details of Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall, the Duke of York, the Princess Royal, the Earl and Countess of Wessex, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, whose fiancée Meghan Markle will also be assigned officers from the pool. There have been high-profile security incidents in recent months. In September undercover police officers arrested a woman for allegedly breaking into Prince George’s school, Thomas’s Battersea. She was given a police caution. In October Theresa May’s speech to the Conservative Party conference in Manchester was interrupted by a prankster who handed her a fake P45 before being led away. Last week Westminster magistrates’ court heard that a terror suspect, Husnain Rashid, 31, encouraged attacks on Prince George at his school. Rashid, who will appear at the Old Bailey on December 20, allegedly warned: “The royal family won’t be left alone.”