Police bodyguards who protect Prince Charles and Prince William have expressed grave concerns over moves to strip junior royals and other VIPs of armed protection, according to a bombshell leaked report.
Officers who have to rely ‘solely’ on Tasers to stop someone being attacked are ‘playing Russian roulette’ with their lives and those of the people they are protecting, it adds.
The report, seen by the Daily Mail, accuses police chiefs of putting cost-cutting above the safety of VIPs, the officers who guard them and the public.
Emergency services at the scene outside the Palace of Westminster where PC Keith Palmer was fatally stabbed by Khalid Masood after he ploughed into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge
It says the lessons of the Westminster and London Bridge terror attacks – where police were attacked by knife-wielding jihadis – have been ‘quickly forgotten’ and that ‘a reckless trade-off of cost vs safety has taken place’.
The Daily Mail can reveal that security measures have been downgraded for a number of senior politicians, community leaders and others previously deemed vulnerable to an attack.
Discussions have also taken place about removing armed cover for some former leading political figures, sources said.
Details of the damning report by royalty and specialist protection officers in the Metropolitan Police Federation – which represents rank and file officers in the force – can be disclosed days after a terror suspect, allegedly acting alone, stabbed three men to death in a Reading park.
Khairi Saadallah, a 25-year-old Libyan who was previously on the radar of MI5, is accused of going on a bloody rampage armed only with a knife.
The Federation report – also endorsed by officers based at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle – spells out the dangers facing those involved in the close protection of VIPs or on the frontline.
‘Taser, ASP (expandable batons) or CS spray are not fit for purpose to defend against an attack of this nature’, the report said
‘We are living in times of unprecedented uncertainty around terrorist threats,’ it says. ‘In a hostile, premeditated attack on a Principal with intent to cause death or serious injury, the most likely weapon of choice would be a knife or other pointed or bladed article.
‘Taser, ASP (expandable batons) or CS spray are not fit for purpose to defend against an attack of this nature.
‘One only has to read the witness testimonies from the London Bridge attack inquest relating to the “have-a-go heroes” struck down and murdered by terrorists armed with nothing more sophisticated than pink ceramic kitchen knives, purchased for £4 each from Lidl, duct-taped to their hands.’
The report continues: ‘A protection officer relying solely on a Taser to neutralise an imminent threat to life is quite literally playing Russian roulette with their life and the life of their Principal.’
Under the plans, which follow a Home Office cost-cutting review, Prince Andrew was due to have his armed police cover downgraded to officers carrying just Tasers.
But he has reportedly been allowed to keep his taxpayer-funded police protection team, which carries firearms, after complaining to the Queen.
It is claimed that armed cover for other royals, who the Mail has decided not to name, has also been earmarked for downgrades.
The measures are part of a wide-ranging reduction of police protection for junior royals, politicians and diplomats.
Met Police personal protection officers guarding the Queen, Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Charles and Prince William, as well as other royals, will continue to carry pistols.
Details of the row emerged after the Mail published two damning investigations last month into the 2017 murder of PC Keith Palmer by a knife-wielding terrorist at the Palace of Westminster
The Royal and VIP Executive Committee, a Home Office group, decides who gets armed protection.
The damning report was submitted to Scotland Yard chiefs last November.
It sets out a range of new security measures – known as ‘Option 5’ – for those who will lose armed protection. The Mail has chosen not to outline these in detail.
We have also decided not to name the officers who put their names to the report.
Details of the row emerged after the Mail published two damning investigations last month into the 2017 murder of PC Keith Palmer by a knife-wielding terrorist at the Palace of Westminster.
Scotland Yard declined to answer any questions about ‘Option 5’ and royal and VIP protection. It said: ‘We do not discuss matters of security.’
‘Taser, batons or CS spray are no use against terrorist attacks’: Exclusive investigation reveals VIPs are having their armed protection downgraded or removed altogether
By Richard Pendlebury and Stephen Wright
For a century, specialist British police officers have protected VIPs against the threat of assassination. In recent years the country has suffered a number of mass-casualty Islamist terror attacks.
And as last weekend’s multiple-fatality stabbing in a Reading park demonstrated, the threat of domestic terrorism — including that committed by far-Right extremists such as the killer of MP Jo Cox — remains as high as ever.
And yet because of a radical change in police tactics instigated earlier this year, the ability of specialist protection officers to prevent a deadly assault has been undermined, it is claimed.
In a series of recent articles, we have shown how security decisions — driven by budget concerns rather than tactical common sense — might have contributed to the death in March 2017 of unarmed police constable Keith Palmer at the hands the Islamic State sympathiser Khalid Masood outside the Houses of Parliament.
It was only the chance intervention by a passing armed protection officer which prevented greater loss of life.
Now, using the findings of a bombshell confidential report and the expert testimony of those inside the world of police VIP protection, the Mail can reveal the extent to which senior politicians, certain members of the Royal Family and other prominent figures in British public life deemed to be at risk of attack are having their armed protection withdrawn altogether and other security measures significantly downgraded.
Those subject to the new arrangements also include former senior politicians.
A new initiative codenamed ‘Option 5’ is being rolled out which will see the numbers of officers and vehicles who accompany such VIPs reduced.
The Mail can reveal the extent to which senior politicians, certain members of the Royal Family and other prominent figures in British public life deemed to be at risk of attack are having their armed protection withdrawn altogether and other security measures significantly downgraded (file photo)
Their firearms are being replaced by the Tasers and batons carried by the average bobby on the beat.
In the jargon of the new scheme, Option 5 police officers will be providing ‘liaison’ rather than protection at ‘a considerable financial saving to the Home Office’.
But the move has caused consternation among officers serving in the Royalty and Specialist Protection unit and — unsurprisingly — those they are tasked to protect.
The report suggests that the VIPs had been left in the dark until the reduction happened.
Sources told the Mail that senior ministers had been misled by the Home Office and senior police officers about what levels of protection they would receive under the new measures and only found out the truth when they were implemented ‘overnight’.
The possible dangers of this approach are laid bare in a devastating secret report which has been presented to and allegedly ‘ignored’ by police chiefs.
A copy of the same report has been obtained by the Mail.
The report’s conclusion states: ‘It would appear that the lessons learnt as a result of Westminster and London Bridge [terror attacks] are quickly forgotten and a reckless trade-off of cost vs safety has taken place, whereby once again cost is the winner that takes all.’ Above, a police-released image shows officers at the scene of the attack
The lead author of the 32-page document is one of Britain’s most senior police personal protection instructors.
But it also carries the names — and endorsement — of the personal protection officers to the Prince of Wales and Prince William and three other officers responsible for the security of Windsor Castle — where the Queen is in quarantine during the pandemic — Buckingham Palace and the Palace of Westminster.
The report’s conclusion states: ‘It would appear that the lessons learnt as a result of Westminster and London Bridge [terror attacks] are quickly forgotten and a reckless trade-off of cost vs safety has taken place, whereby once again cost is the winner that takes all.
‘Maximising the safety of the Principal [the VIP] must remain the primary objective, whilst simultaneously ensuring the risk to the public and police officers is minimised.
Officers who have to rely ‘solely’ on Tasers to stop someone being attacked are ‘playing Russian roulette’ with their lives and those of the people they are protecting, the report says (file photo)
‘Any new tactic must be safe and fit for purpose. It is our view that this tactic, as implemented, is neither.’
The report reveals that having conducted a review of Option 5’s ‘practical application’, the Met’s Specialist Firearms Command training team were of the view that it ‘falls short of properly mitigating risk against a Principal.
Their informed professional opinion is that the tactic would not stand up to scrutiny at any public inquiry [following a serious incident or death]’.
It then asked: ‘Why would you remove such a critical tactical option [firearms] from protection officers, if there is no need to?
‘We are living in times of unprecedented uncertainty around terrorist threats. Islamic extremists are . . . having their plans of random mass murder [regularly] thwarted by our colleagues in CT [counter-terrorism] and MI5, and far-Right extremists are targeting their local MPs to promote their perverted world view.
‘In a hostile, premeditated attack on a Principal with intent to cause death or serious injury, the most likely weapon of choice would be a knife or other pointed or bladed article.
‘Taser, [baton] or CS spray are not fit for purpose to defend against an attack of this nature.
‘One only has to read the eye-witness testimonies from the London Bridge terrorist attack inquest relating to the “have-a-go-heroes” struck down and murdered by the terrorists armed with nothing more sophisticated than pink ceramic kitchen knives, purchased for £4 each from Lidl, duct-taped to their hands.’
The report then warned: ‘A protection officer relying solely on a Taser to neutralise an imminent threat to life is quite literally playing Russian roulette with their life and the life of their Principal.’
As one of Britain’s most experienced close protection officers, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Mail last night: ‘A Taser is fine to deal with a drunk standing in the middle of the street waving a knife and shouting. It will not stop a determined assassin.
‘The Principals have been told it is not a major change. But how can it not be when you go from having a protection team that can protect your life to one that cannot?’
Security decisions — driven by budget concerns rather than tactical common sense — might have contributed to the death in March 2017 of unarmed police constable Keith Palmer at the hands the Islamic State sympathiser Khalid Masood (above) outside the Houses of Parliament
Another told us: ‘Option 5 is like a suicide pact.’ A third said: ‘We used to be the benchmark around the world for the provision of personal protection to VIPs. Now we are a laughing stock.’
So who is to lose — or has already lost — their firearms protection?
The Mail has been made aware of the identities of a number of prominent individuals who have in recent weeks been downgraded from protection by armed police bodyguards to Option 5, or are about to be. In order not to jeopardise them further, they will not be named.
Nor, for the same reason, will we go into detail on how resources have been withdrawn beyond the exchange of guns for Tasers.
But some named cases are already in the public domain, or their relegation to Option 5 has been put on hold.
The Royal Family has so far managed to resist significant changes.
Sources told the Mail that the operational head of the Royalty and Specialist Protection unit, Chief Superintendent Zander Gibson, had this spring written to at least two junior Royals to inform them that their protection was being downgraded.
Princess Anne was the subject of a failed armed kidnap attempt on The Mall in 1974, in which her police protection officer and chauffeur were shot and wounded. (Above, the Daily Mail front page from March 21 1974)
We understand that one of the recipients was Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex. Gibson was then told to cease further correspondence.
‘The Princess Royal was also going to be put on Option 5 but that move has also been suspended,’ said a source.
‘It was pointed out to [police chiefs] that the Royal Family’s engagements are published on open-access sources, sometimes months in advance. Senior management did not know that. They have backed off for the moment.’
Princess Anne was the subject of a failed armed kidnap attempt on The Mall in 1974, in which her police protection officer and chauffeur were shot and wounded.
She was returning from a public event and her attendance had been publicised in advance.
Having stepped down from public life over the scandal of his associations with paedophile tycoon Jeffrey Epstein, her brother the Duke of York was also put on Option 5 at the start of this month.
Prince Andrew was due to lose his police protection — which costs a reported £300,000 a year — altogether last week, a source told the Mail.
‘His team was told it was going to be redeployed elsewhere. But then the Queen stepped in and said “no”.’ It is unclear who is paying for the retention of the Duke of York’s guard. There is no suggestion that the Queen, Charles or William are to have their protection downgraded.
A source told the Mail that former senior politicians were to have their security downgraded, starting this month with the security detail of one elder statesman.
His new arrangements were to be used as a ‘test team’ for similar future downgrades.
A source told the Mail that several serving senior politicians were put on Option 5 almost immediately after the previous Chancellor Sajid Javid resigned.
The confidential report states: ‘The [Home Office] did not want the principals [the VIPs], in line for this significantly reduced level of [protection] to become aware of their impending reduction in security until imposed and past the point of no return.’
The Defence Secretary Ben Wallace was downgraded but had his firearms officers reinstated after complaining to Downing Street.
A source told the Mail that Wallace first realised that there had been a more radical change than he was led to believe when he was at an event and received a message that he had to return to the Ministry of Defence to speak on a secure line as soon as possible.
‘He told his protection team that he needed blue lights and [sirens] and to go as fast as possible. They said no, they could not do that under Option 5. So they drove him back silently at 30mph. He was not happy, to put it mildly.’
It was a previous Defence Secretary Michael Fallon’s personal protection officer who shot and killed Khalid Masood after he had fatally stabbed PC Palmer and killed another three people and injured dozens of others using a vehicle on Westminster Bridge.
That officer was in the vicinity of the attack only because he was waiting for his minister to emerge from Parliament.
A number of ‘near-miss’ reports have been lodged by protection teams since the instigation of Option 5.
Last month a very senior politician who had been downgraded to Option 5 was driven out of Downing Street and straight into a violent demonstration, in which his vehicle was trapped.
Unexpected incidents provide cover for opportunistic attacks. Last week, the car in which the Prime Minister — who still has full armed protection — was travelling was in collision with a car containing members of his protection team after a protester stepped out in front of his convoy.
The Reading attack is viewed by protection officers as a further warning of the dangers of complacently putting cost before safety. One told the Mail that it ‘shows how crazy Option 5 is’.
The 400 Royalty and Specialist Protection (RaSP) officers provide personal protection for the Royal Family, government ministers, ambassadors, visiting heads of state and others deemed to be at risk.
Aside from during the Princess Anne kidnap attempt and the shooting of Masood, officers have drawn their weapons on a number of occasions.
In 1982 a police bodyguard shot and critically wounded a Palestinian terrorist who had just shot the Israeli ambassador outside a Park Lane hotel.
In 2017 Jeremy Corbyn, then Labour leader, was having lunch at a cafe in Hoxton, East London, when his two protection officers intervened in a robbery taking place nearby.
When one of the robbers drew a knife, they drew their guns and an arrest was made.
Sources say that since the RaSP was founded in 2015 there has been a marked change of approach.
Some senior officers in the unit do not have a background in or working knowledge of firearms and protection. Recruiting criteria of junior officers has also changed.
‘They are coming in after only two or three years’ police service,’ said a source. ‘That’s fine if the guy had done ten years in the Army on operations.
You get life skills. Not good if he is young and with little service. It’s not enough.’
The bottom line is that firearm-trained police officers of 15 years’ experience are much more expensive than a junior constable armed only with a Taser.
The idea behind Option 5 was first mooted in 2016. The report claims that there was little consultation with serving firearms officers before the tactics were presented to the Metropolitan Police Federation — the professional body — by the Home Office as a fait accompli in May last year.
The confidential report analysing Option 5 was then written by a senior Federation member close to protection experts.
It was presented to the RaSP’s senior leadership team earlier this year. But ‘they have simply ignored it,’ according to a source.
A number of firearms instructors who have lectured on close protection around the world are quoted in the report. One states: ‘This feels very much like an option considered by someone who has little understanding of what the day-to-day job actually looks like, and the position they will be placing those officers in.’
Another says: ‘I’m unsure as to how this option would stand up to scrutiny at inquest.’
A source told the Mail that, as a result, a number of firearms officers who were recruited to RaSP from provincial forces and duty at Heathrow airport have now applied to return to their old posts.
‘You do it properly or you don’t do it at all,’ one firearms officer told the Mail.
It would be better, he said, for Option 5 principals to be protected by martial arts-trained private security specialists or ex-special forces.
‘Policemen are not trained in hand-to-hand combat, which would be better than a Taser if you haven’t got a gun.’
‘[Scotland Yard] say they have done risk assessments [prior to downgrading]. But that is untrue. The Home Office has said that it will shoulder that risk. But I don’t believe that for a second either.
‘When something goes wrong, it will be the guys on the ground who get the blame at the cost of the life of an officer, a member of the public or the principal they are protecting.’
Last night Scotland Yard refused to comment.