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As safe as palaces

As safe as palaces

The world of royal security is kept secret on purpose. But, through a year-long investigation, David McClure has uncovered answers to all the big questions. How are the Queen and her family protected? Who does the work? And, crucially, how much does it cost?

Typically, it was all done discreetly. On my arrival at Anmer, early one summer Sunday, there was no indication that this picture-postcard Norfolk hamlet, with its old-worldly bowling green and neat row of cottages, was home to the future king of Britain. All that blocked the entrance to Anmer Hall, the country residence of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, was a single wooden automatic pole, with an entryphone but no gatehouse. Tucked to one side, on the grass near to a flint-stoned Anglican church, was a small stand with the polite warning: “No Unauthorised Access. Trespass on this site is a criminal offence.” As an aide-memoire, I duly photographed it, along with the stretch of newly planted high trees that prevented any view of the Grade II Georgian manor house beyond.

It was only after I had sauntered back to my car, more than a little disappointed that my first testing of security at the royal residences had drawn a blank, that that security made its presence known. Out of nowhere, a white police car appeared on the empty street, pulled up in front of me, and one of the two uniformed officers inside wound down the window. I explained that I was a journalist doing some research on the royal family, whereupon I was asked to provide ID and my car’s registration details. Then I was also required to hand over my phone, which was checked for what turned out to be non-decipherable photos of Anmer Hall. In return, the police officer gave me a written sheet, headed “Private and Confidential – not for publication or broadcast at any time,” explaining why photography on the Sandringham estate intruded on the privacy of the royal family and how I should contact the Palace if I wanted to use any photos professionally.

It is a moot (and no doubt minor) point whether journalists on public property near royal residences should be stopped by the police from doing their job – other royal reporters have complained to me about this practice – but more substantively this small episode highlighted the two key characteristics of royal security: it is both low key and high cost. My casual photography at 9.15 on a Sunday morning must have been picked up by cameras discreetly placed in the undergrowth, and a police patrol car stationed in a nearby guardhouse dispatched within minutes to check out a possible intruder.

Back in 2013, as part of the taxpayer-funded £1.5 million refurbishment of Anmer Hall, around £250,000 was spent converting a garage block into an accommodation facility for police guards, and the driveway was rerouted, the main gate was resituated, and a row of new trees planted to give greater privacy. The series of local planning applications was never published for reasons of national security, and a recent Freedom of Information request on local policing costs, submitted to the Norfolk Constabulary, was rejected on the same grounds.

Anmer Hall on the Sandringham Estate

But it is not just at Anmer Hall where the issue of royal security is beginning to emerge from the shadows. It affects all of Britain’s royals and all their palaces, as was made clear by Prince Harry’s sudden departure from Frogmore Cottage, which saw him lose his royal bodyguards, and by the recent controversy over Martin Bashir’s Panorama interview that, some now say, prompted Princess Diana to drop her security detail. With the idea of a cheaper, streamlined monarchy now firmly on the agenda after Prince Philip’s death, some awkward questions are also being asked about security.

Critics have begun to challenge the government’s claim that it cannot discuss royal security or disclose its cost because to do so “could compromise the integrity of these arrangements,” by revealing to terrorists sensitive information. Is this just a smokescreen to hide the embarrassment of the disclosure of a sum rumoured to be over £100 million? What more could be done to save public money? Should the protection of junior royals be downgraded or cut off entirely? And since security is by far the costliest item of royal expenditure, should the royal family pay for some of their own protection?

The main findings from this investigation are that:

  • Despite the government’s insistence that publishing the figures would undermine security, a recent Freedom of Information release revealed that the bill for royal security in 1989 was £10-15 million.
  • A personal interview with a former head of royal protection disclosed that by 1998 the bill had risen to around £30 million.
  • Oral parliamentary evidence from a former assistant commissioner of the Met Police divulged that by 2010 it had skyrocketed to £128 million.
  • A personal interview with a former Home Office minister has put the bill today at £150 million.
  • In spite of official claims that military protection is only ceremonial, according to a former Met Police chief, soldiers have sometimes been requested to be put on standby to protect the Queen, even though their cost is never factored into the total bill of royal protection.
  • At a time of cuts to Ministry of Defence budgets, several Balmoral staff members have revealed that soldiers from Scottish regiments assigned to protect the Queen during her summer stay also do gardening work and general chores around her private estate.

The cost of royal security suddenly became a matter of public debate in late January 2020, when Harry and Meghan arrived on Vancouver Island after their dramatic departure from the royal family. Initially, the Canadian public welcomed the famous couple to their shores with open arms – until they found out that they were expected to pick up the security bill for the Canadian Mounted Police, which was put at several million pounds a year. With polls showing that three quarters of the population did not want to pay, the Ottawa government was pressed into announcing that it would stop providing security once the Sussexes stopped being working royals, “in keeping with their changed status”.

Something similar happened in the United States after they moved on to Los Angeles in the middle of March 2020, with President Trump tweeting: “I am a great friend and admirer of the Queen & the United Kingdom. It was reported that Harry and Meghan, who left the Kingdom, would reside permanently in Canada. Now they have left Canada for the U.S., however, the U.S. will not pay for their security protection. They must pay!”

Around the same time, a YouGov poll found that 80 per cent of the British public thought that neither the US nor the UK governments should pay. Soon after, a spokesperson for the Sussexes responded that “The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have no plans to ask the US government for security resources. Privately funded security arrangements have been made.”

But Harry really kicked the hornet’s nest a year later, in March 2021, when, before a UK audience of 12 million television viewers (and another 17 million in the US), he complained to Oprah Winfrey about how he had lost his official security: “All I wanted was enough money to get security and keep my family safe.” He added that “the royal family had literally cut me off financially [in the first quarter of 2020] and I had to afford security for us,” even though the threat level had not changed. Most worryingly, his son Archie would no longer get protection due to confusion over his status.

But were Harry’s complaints fair? “The stuff he came out with about not getting protection because Archie was not a prince or [because he was] Black or anything else was absolute utter crap,” is the response of Dai Davies, the plain-speaking former head of royal protection at the Met Police. He also pointed out that, while in the UK for Prince Philip’s funeral in April, Harry probably received taxpayer-funded security – whether it was from the Thames Valley Police for his stay in Frogmore Cottage or from the Met Police for escorting him there from Heathrow Airport.

Armed police officers outside of Windsor Castle ahead of the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle

“He can pay for private security if he wants when he is over here,” argues Norman Baker, the former Home Office minister and author of a recent book on royal privilege, And What Do You Do? “He has made a choice to leave the royal family and one of the consequences of that is that he can enrich himself enormously. The public at large will simply not wear the idea that you absolve yourself of your royal duties and you get all the benefits of staying in the royal family. It is one thing or the other.”

How enormously Harry has enriched himself (and whether it is enough to cover all his security costs) is debatable, with unverified figures of $100 million or, indeed, £100 million being bandied around for his and Meghan’s deal with Netflix. But given that he has also done deals with Spotify’s podcast service as well as the lucrative speaking agency Harry Walker – and that he was then able to afford a £6.5 million mortgage on a £10 million Santa Barbara mansion, while paying back £2.4 million to the public purse for his refit of Frogmore Cottage – he must have made tens of millions of pounds from such commercial activity. He will certainly need protection for the rest of his life and, based on an average of six guards being necessary, his security bill has been estimated at around £2-4 million a year.

Now flush with cash, is there any reason why he and Meghan cannot easily pay for their own security? “It depends on whether they want to replicate the old system of protection or if they want a totally new one,” observes Simon Morgan, Harry’s former Met Police protection officer who now runs his own security business. “The cost will be determined by how much they travel… and if they want a global perspective. [But] if they stay inside their own house and do nothing, it will be several thousand pounds a day.”

Personal protection does not come cheap – even in the public sector. “Policemen and women are expensive things to have,” acknowledges Dai Davies. After a legal case brought recently by Met Police guards, it was disclosed that, in 2017/18, a total of 47 officers in the royal protection group earned more than £100,000. There are currently around 45-500 officers. To come to a comprehensive bill, you also have to include the extra charges of overtime, travel and pensions.

From the moment he joined the South Wales police force in Swansea in the 1990s, it was Simon Morgan’s dream job to be a royal protection officer. But such a posting in the elite SO14 unit requires more than ten years’ general police experience, followed by half a year of intense specialist training. After studying at university in Gloucestershire, he joined the Met Police and worked in the public order and specialist firearms units, but it was only after he had completed a 12-week course in advanced driving and training in emergency first aid, fitness and the use of weapons that he was able to attend the tough – and somewhat hush-hush – national bodyguard course that can include exercises at the SAS base in Hereford.

Although the popular image of a royal bodyguard is of someone who is willing to take a bullet for the monarch, Morgan, 49, married and father of three children, is keen to stress that the key to good protection is preparation, and that, by anticipating the threat, any discharge of arms can be avoided: “Your thought process has to be further ahead, and that is what a protection officer is all about…. You have to be able to walk and talk at the same time.” In 2013, after six and a half years with SO14, he left to set up his own private security firm, Trojan Consultancy, as he saw “a market for the level of security… we delivered to the royal family to be delivered to high net worth individuals and families around the world”.

Diana, Princess Of Wales, with her Protection Officer Barry Mannakee

If you stay too long, there is a danger of going native. When he was head of royal protection between 1995 and 1998, Dai Davies made it his policy to move officers out of the unit after about seven years, even if this displeased a few royals who had grown accustomed to their ever-on-hand guards. Scotland Yard protocol dictates that an officer must not get too close to his or her principal. This is necessary as, in recent times, there have been two embarrassing cases of bodyguards getting “overfamiliar”. First, in 1982, Princess Anne’s police guard, Sergeant Peter Cross, had to be moved from his job after it became known that the two were involved in a close relationship. And then, in 1986, rumours began circulating that Princess Diana had become “too close” to her protection officer, Sergeant Barry Mannakee. He, too, had to be let go.

Since Windsor Castle is an official – rather than a private – residence, security there is far more formal, visible and altogether tighter than at Anmer Hall. It took over ten weeks of form-filling for the Royal Collection Trust before I received an email confirming that “all the necessary security checks have been completed for an appointment at the Royal Archives”. On arrival at Windsor Castle, I also had to reconfirm my proof of identify by going to the Pass Office on a nearby street lined with anti-terrorist barriers and producing my passport. The day pass allowed me entry to the compound through the Henry VIII Gate, which was guarded by a female police officer cradling a machine gun. At the ancient oak doorway to the Round Tower, my documentation was checked by another guard who arranged for a librarian to shepherd me up a winding stone staircase to the cramped research room on the second floor of the Royal Archives (only six researchers are allowed per day). She explained that if I needed to go to the common room for lunch, or go to the toilet, she would escort me there, too. Indeed, during my entire eight-hour visit to the castle, there was no time when I was left unaccompanied.

The reason for the strict security was not primarily to protect the priceless collection of documents and journals in the Royal Archives, but because the Queen lives on the premises. The Round Tower in the centre of the castle is directly connected to her private apartments. In case I was tempted to go walkabout unescorted, it was explained to me that CCTV was in operation in the tower and that images were being monitored for “the purposes of law enforcement and public safety”. 

Nowadays, security lapses at Windsor are comparatively rare – or perhaps they are just kept conveniently under wraps. In October 2006, it took a report from a Daily Express royal correspondent for Scotland Yard to realise that there had been a serious breach of security. Richard Palmer got a tip-off from an intruder who claimed that “it is very, very easy in this day and age to get into Windsor Castle,” and, to confirm his suspicions, the interloper repeatedly broke in himself. He explained to Palmer how, while carrying a large rucksack that could have contained explosives, he had got into the grounds through an allotment close to the Royal Mews and through a series of unlocked gates in the castle which, for some reason, were not properly monitored by cameras. Crucially, this allowed him to bypass the airport-style security bag checks that were done on normal visitors. He then joined up with tourists exploring the public areas of the castle and from there, he claimed, he had gained access to parts of the residence used solely by the royal family and their personal staff. More worryingly, he was able to steal from the sentry post at the Henry VIII Gate a manual marked “Metropolitan Police SO14 Telephone Directory Windsor Castle & Home Park Private,” which contained all the contact details of the Queen’s closest aides and counterterrorism officers, as well as numbers for the CCTV control room and for obtaining security passes.

Palmer returned the book to the police authorities after checking out the story by getting a Daily Express photographer to retrace the steps of the intruder and successfully break into the castle. The whole episode was acutely embarrassing to Scotland Yard, who later had a detailed conversation with the royal reporter. A compromise was agreed: the police would be allowed to interview the intruder provided he did not face prosecution. It later emerged that the man had a history of mental health problems, including a predisposition to break into official buildings whenever he felt unstable or unwell. 

The most common threat to royal security comes not from terrorists or those intent on doing physical harm, but from fixated individuals. In the past, relatively few resources went on tackling this category of threat. But in 2006, after evidence emerged that a large proportion of fixated people were mentally ill and in need of urgent medical help, the Met Police set up the Fixated Threat Assessment Centre, made up of detectives and mental health professionals. According to Dai Davies, this has proved “a success” in bringing the threat from the fixated within the ambit of royalty protection and, as of May 2020, over 100 “red alert” stalkers were being monitored by the unit. The most famous of these cases occurred in July 1982, when the unemployed decorator Michael Fagan broke into the Queen’s bedroom at Buckingham Palace and was only detained after being distracted by the offer of a cigarette from Her Majesty. In the end, Fagan was not charged but committed to a psychiatric hospital for three months.

The Fagan fiasco fuelled mutterings in the royal family that perhaps security could be better handled by the military than the Met – with the added bonus that soldiers would be more deferential to their commander-in-chief than police officers who were answerable not to their principals at the Palace but to their commanding officer at Scotland Yard. At the time of Queen Victoria, the protection of the sovereign was traditionally the preserve of the armed forces, since they were regarded as more professional than the under-resourced police forces. But, over the decades, more and more security duties were handed over to the Metropolitan Police so that today the role of the military is mainly ceremonial. When the monarch is at Windsor Castle or Buckingham Palace she is “protected” by the Queen’s Guard, which consists of three officers and 36 soldiers, although they do not normally carry loaded firearms.

But despite official denials, the military sometimes provides more than ceremonial protection – a service that comes at what must be a considerable, undisclosed cost to the public purse. In terms of logistical support, the armed forces have historically given a helping hand in transporting all the Queen’s luggage (kitchen equipment, mattresses, horses and dogs) up to Balmoral for her three-month summer sojourn. Her flight to nearby Aberdeen will usually be manned by RAF officers in the Queen’s Flight, and while in residence on the sprawling Balmoral/Birkhall estate she may be guarded by up to 100 soldiers from a Scottish regiment.

“To be truthful,” explains Dai Davis, “they are ceremonial. They are not there to protect, although in my time I did request to arm them in London and Windsor, but not in Scotland. If push comes to shove, they are a pretty good bunch of people and you could always call on them… I did request the military to arm the soldiers one weekend in London and Windsor, as there was a real risk of attack from PIRA (the Provisional Irish Republican Army) but I am not sure if they kept them armed.”

At the end of May, in what was seen as an act of mourning for Prince Philip, the Queen, according to a report in The Daily Mail, made an “out of season” stay at Balmoral – but not in the castle, which had just then reopened to the public and was in need of any post-lockdown business it could muster, but a mile away in Craigowan Lodge, a seven-bedroom stone house that is often used for very special guests or senior members of the royal family. When I travelled up to the Highlands to check out both the story and the security arrangements, there was no sign of a military presence after a five-mile drive around the perimeter of the Balmoral estate. According to an information officer at nearby Ballater, where the soldiers are always stationed, the Victoria Barracks were definitely closed since they only send up a regiment for the Queen during her traditional sojourn of July to September. But she did admit that, while on duty at Balmoral, the soldiers regularly “help with estate work,” such as “beating” (flushing out wild game or deer). Three separate staff members at Balmoral Castle later confirmed that the Scottish troops did do “gardening work” and generally lent a hand with estate chores. As an acknowledgement of this irregular work and as a gesture of thanks, the Queen always invites soldiers to the biannual Ghillies Ball in the Balmoral Castle Ballroom, where they can let their hair down and enjoy traditional Scottish dancing with the regular staff.

At the risk of lese-majesty, one is obliged to ask whether, at a time of defence cuts, doing gardening work on the Balmoral estate is the best use of military resources? Does the Ministry of Defence bill Her Majesty for these menial chores? The precise cost of stationing one hundred troops in Balmoral for three months of the year is unclear, as it is swallowed up in the MoD budget, along with other hidden cross-subsidised royal costs. 

When the Palace was asked to respond, it offered the usual straight bat: “We never comment on security matters.”

As for the Army, one of its spokespeople said: “The main role of the Royal Guard is ceremonial, but they also provide security for the Queen while she is in residence. Occasionally, members of the Guard perform other duties, including minor maintenance tasks. If this is the case, soldiers are given Extra Duties pay by the Estate.”

Characteristically, security was discreet when I later took the public tour of the castle and grounds. To obtain tickets, you had to register online well in advance, which no doubt permitted the authorities to check names against any known fixated individuals on the list. Parking was allowed a mile away at Crathie village and the public was permitted to visit only the Ballroom linked to the castle, and not the private rooms. But when, as a test, I tried to smuggle a knife into the castle, there was no airport-like scanning equipment or manual searches and it went through unnoticed. The main acknowledged threat seems to come not from the ground but high above: a big sign on the castle’s front lawn warned, “NO DRONE ZONE: unauthorised use of drones in this area is strictly prohibited.”

Craigowan Lodge on Balmoral Estate

On the morning of my visit, Crathie’s main coffee shop seemed to have an extra police presence, with two marked police cars stationed in the parking lot along with four uniformed policemen, including one who was armed and spoke with an English accent. Several of the staff at Balmoral were tight-lipped on the question of whether the Queen was in residence on the estate (some denying it; others saying they would not be told even if she were there), but when I asked a local ranger for directions to Craigowan Lodge, I was told in no uncertain terms that it was “out of bounds”. 

Whatever role the military plays in protecting the royal family at Balmoral, the bulk of the protection is done by a combination of the Met Police and the local police force. When I put in an FoI request to Police Scotland, to find out the cost of the extra policing, they acknowledged that disclosure might favour public accountability about “the efficient and effective use of resources,” but, in the end, it was rejected not just on the usual grounds of national security and health and safety, but also of law enforcement – because the requested information could be used by those with criminal intent “to more accurately estimate resources allocated to protect members of the public”.

If security is laid-back at Balmoral, discreet at Anmer Hall, and in-your-face at Windsor Castle, then at Clarence House it can only be described as cosy – although disarmingly so, as I discovered on my pre-Covid visit to Prince Charles’s official residence on the Mall. The police guard at the entrance was photo friendly and the guide who would take me and twenty other paid visitors on a 45-minute tour of the house was warm and welcoming until she directed me towards a large white marquee that emerged out of the garden foliage like a grotesque gazebo. You were then subjected to Windsor Castle-like, airport-style security checks which involved removing all metal objects from your pockets before going through the scanner. All visitors were then shown a list of banned items including pen knives and large umbrellas. No photography was allowed and mobiles had to be switched off at all times. 

Since Charles and Camilla are never in residence during the tour month of August, the protection is less about the prince than his prints – that is, sketches and other artworks. Once inside, you soon realise that Clarence House is – as the former MP Chris Mullin recorded in his diary – “a veritable art gallery”. The morning room alone contains paintings by Claude Monet, Walter Sickert and Herbert Gunn, while other rooms hold important pieces by John Piper and Augustus John.

Clarence House was for 50 years the home of the Queen Mother and, when she died in 2002, her fabulous collection of paintings passed via the Queen, who in the eyes of her mother had a low appreciation of the high arts, to Prince Charles, who conspicuously had a high one. At the time, her art collection was valued at around £30 million, with the Monet alone being thought to be worth £7 million. The guide was unable to say whether the art collection was insured or not, but security is particularly tight at Clarence House as it forms part of the well-protected compound of St James’s Palace, which contains the private apartments of Princess Anne and Princess Alexandra and which, in 2007, was designated a protected site under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act of 2005, which made it a criminal offence to trespass on the grounds.

Royal protection was equally strict at Prince Charles’s private residence in Gloucestershire. “Security at Highgrove was second to none, at least as private houses go in England,” observed Ken Wharfe, who was Princess Diana’s personal protection officer from 1988 to 1993. But things were very different when Charles first bought the 15-acre estate in 1980. “His house was quite close to a main road and anyone at that time could have scaled the fence or a brick wall,” Wharfe told Channel 5’s Secrets of the Royal Palaces in February this year. The Prince of Wales suddenly became a terrorist target after the murder of his great uncle Lord Mountbatten and the launch of an IRA bombing campaign in the 1980s, and, as a result, his security team rerouted a public footpath, installed CCTV cameras and sensitive listening equipment in the gardens, and put in place a no-fly zone. Within the house, a steel-walled panic room was built in the basement: “It tends to be a room that is safe. You can lock yourself in with a phone, some water and sandwiches, until the cavalry arrives to retrieve you and drop a rope down the middle of the ceiling, and [you] escape in a helicopter.”

Prince Charles and Camilla, on an official trip to Germany

On his flights, Charles also gets first class security. When he flies up to Balmoral on an RAF plane, he may receive some military protection in addition to his Met Police detail, but it is when he flies abroad on his increasingly numerous foreign trips that the security is at its tightest. Sometimes a personal protection officer might have to go out two or three times in advance (as much as a year ahead of time) to ensure that everything is safe. “Recce time is your bread and butter as a royal protection officer,” explains Simon Morgan, who used to be in charge of planning the security for royal trips in the UK and abroad. “You are representing Her Majesty’s government, the royal family and the Met Police, and therefore nothing can go wrong.” But, inevitably, such detailed reconnaissance comes at a cost. Prince Charles’s March 2019 trip to the Caribbean and Cuba was preceded by two “staff planning visits” – to Grenada and Havana – which pushed up the total bill to £416,576.

We know these general figures because part of the quid pro quo of the government’s generous deal in 2011 to introduce the Sovereign Grant funding arrangement was that the parliamentary watchdog, the National Audit Office, could audit royal household expenditure. Unfortunately, its remit did not extend to expenditure on security. The official reason why no breakdown of the costs is available is because “disclosure of such information could compromise the integrity of these arrangements and affect the security of the individuals protected. It is long established policy not to comment upon the protective security arrangements and their related costs for members of the Royal Family or their residences.”

Many security experts are now beginning to challenge this explanation. “We are told how much the SAS costs… and I cannot for the life of me understand why the costs of royals are not broken down,” argues Dai Davies, who had all these figures at his fingertips when he was head of royal security. As a Home Office minister in David Cameron’s coalition government, the former Lib Dem MP Norman Baker felt frustrated whenever he tried to get his hands on more financial information: “We know how much is spent on the security services [and] if they can tell us that, which is obviously far more sensitive to the public at large, then they can tell us how much the royal family gets in security terms. But the fact of the matter is that it is a red herring…. The reason why we are not told is because it is hugely embarrassing.”

As a result of this investigation, we can now provide concrete evidence about the true cost of security. After unsuccessfully submitting a dozen FoI requests, I struck gold with one concerning a 1989 review of the funding of the monarchy. Among the discussion papers examining a bold palace plan to fund all the expenditure of the royal household from all the income of the Crown Estate, there was one Treasury memo dated 19/07/1989, on royal security, which gave a precise figure: “our annual check of total expenditure on the Royal Family suggests that, excluding the police and the post office, the cost in 1988-89 was nearly £45 million (probably £55-60 million including those costs.)” In other words, in 1989 security cost around £10-15 million, more than a quarter of the total budget for the royal household. Now, if the FOI authorities can today release the real figures without any harm being caused, why does the government still insist that any disclosure would compromise security? 

Part of the answer is given in another revealing comment from the final report of the 1989 review, which warned that the disadvantage of the new comprehensive funding system was that the total cost of the monarchy “would become more apparent… and would, for a period at least, probably be subject to extensive public and political debate.” Put simply, it would be highly embarrassing.

To add to the embarrassment: thanks to this investigation, we know now what the cost of security was a decade later in 1998. When Dai Davies, the head of royal security between 1995 and 1998, was asked to confirm a previous statement to me that his budget in the late 1990s was £25-30 million, he agreed that “it must have been somewhere in that region”.

We also have a good idea from an expert source what the cost is today. According to Norman Baker, a Home Office minister between 2013 and 2014, and before that a backbench MP who scrutinised the royal finances for 13 years, “I would guess at £150 million if you extrapolate from what one person costs and add in all the travel costs.”

We now know, too, that when John Yates, the head of the Diplomatic Unit at the Met Police, gave evidence to a parliamentary Home Affairs Committee in September 2010 and was asked by to give a total figure for his budget for royal and diplomatic protection, he stated unequivocally that “the allocation is £128 million for this year”. When pressed by the chair, he would not be drawn on how many royals were actually being protected; all he would say was that “over a dozen” people would be privy to this sensitive information. He later wrote a memorandum to the committee explaining that he could only set out in “the very broadest of terms, protection arrangements for members of the Royal Household and other public figures,” which suggests he might have given them some more general information in a later written submission, but that was not published in the final report.

This points to a possible solution to the quandary of how to exercise proper parliamentary scrutiny without compromising security. You do it in private, as regularly happens with Commons committees dealing with intelligence matters. According to Lord Adonis, the former Labour cabinet minister, “if there are problems of confidentiality, the committee could be done on a privy council basis”. The current set-up is “not satisfactory as no one can challenge the spending. It should be put on a statutory basis.”

One current security issue that parliament might consider is whether Prince Andrew merits public protection. Since his disastrous Newsnight interview in November 2019, in which he attempted to distance himself from the Jeffrey Epstein sex scandal, he has “stepped back” from royal duties and lost the official support that goes with being a working royal. When there was a public backlash to him continuing to receive taxpayer-funded security, the Queen reportedly agreed to pay for his protection from her private funds, although it was scaled back (he is apparently protected by Met Police officers, but they are not routinely armed). That Andrew is still in need of security was made clear by two recent break-ins at his Royal Lodge home in Windsor Great Park. On 19 April, a woman claiming to have a lunch appointment with the Duke was mistakenly let in. She spent 20 minutes wandering the grounds before she entered the lodge, where she was arrested by the police and then sectioned under the Mental Health Act. Six days later, two intruders – a man and his girlfriend – scaled the perimeter fence and once again roamed around the grounds before they were arrested by the police. “The perimeter protection at Royal Lodge is insufficient,” Ken Wharfe told The Sun. “The fence is not being guarded effectively. Who next will jump over?”

With this challenge, I decided to check out the security at Prince Andrew’s home. Early one bright May morning, I entered Windsor Great Park through the same unmanned Bishopsgate entrance taken by the first intruder and walked up to the pink main gatehouse for the 21-acre estate. No one was visible at the sentry post as a limousine lazily exited the grounds. Without a single sign indicating that this was Royal Lodge, security seemed as low-key as at Anmer Hall. But would I be stopped, like last time, if I ventured further? I walked up to the gatehouse, turned left, and followed the wooden fence as far it would take me. It would have been simple to climb over once I was half-hidden in deeper woodland and there was no visible deterrent of CCTV cameras in the foliage of the sort that had reportedly picked up the two intruders. The only nod to electronic surveillance was a sensor wire over one section of the fence to the right of the gatehouse. Although I was behaving suspiciously, taking notes and photos with my phone, no one approached me during my 45-minute recce to ask what I was up to.

The weakness in both human and physical protection at the Royal Lodge highlights a key finding of our investigation: security can be patchy amongst the portfolio of royal palaces.

At the time, the only royal in residence was Prince Andrew, since his daughter Eugenie had recently departed the family home after sheltering there during the first lockdown. As non-working royals, she and her elder sister Beatrice are regularly criticised for how much public money is spent on their security (the security bill for her 2018 Windsor Castle wedding was £2-3 million). When she left school at 18, she embarked on a year-long, round-the-world gap trip that reportedly cost the taxpayer £100,000 in protection from police guards (in addition to her £250,000 general security bill and another £250,000 for her sister). To a growing number of security experts, including Dai Davies at the Met Police, this was a waste of money as they did not represent a real target: “I was a keen exponent of getting rid of security for Prince Andrew’s children as they were not fulfilling any [public] role and there was no threat.”

Partly in response to this pressure, in 2009, the then home secretary, Jack Straw, asked Sir John Chilcot, then a little-known retired Whitehall civil servant, to conduct a review of the cost of royal security. In 2010, it was reported that Chilcot had recommended security cuts for several junior royals including the Wessexes, whose country estate Bagshot Park cost £1 million a year to protect. He advocated that Prince Edward pay for some of his own protection and use civilian, rather than police, guards. Anyone who walks around the perimeter fence of his Berkshire home, as I did recently, is struck by how large it is (51 acres in all) and how expensive it must be to protect (my FoI request for a figure from Thames Valley Police was rejected on national security and law enforcement grounds).

We do not know what specific cuts Chilcot recommended for Beatrice and Eugenie (whose public security is believed to have been terminated a year after the report came out) because it was never published. My FoI request for its release was also rejected for reasons of “National Security,” as well as “Health and Safety,” and my subsequent appeal has also failed to get a positive response. Even Lord Adonis, who was a cabinet minister when Chilcot reported, was left in the dark: “I was told nothing about the report,” but this was fairly typical of royal matters because “only a tiny niche of people is involved and it is not considered by the cabinet as a whole”.

What worried Norman Baker, another ex-government minister who felt excluded from royal discussions, was that “[who got] security was not determined by some sort of objective determination but by the royal family themselves, and what they wanted, they got it largely.” Nowadays, the decision on who receives police protection is formally taken by the Royalty and VIP Executive Committee (Ravec), a Home Office body that consists of senior civil servants, the royal household and senior Scotland Yard officers, with input from Britain’s security services – and perhaps the Queen, too. “Although people tell me it is this executive committee that makes the decision,” Dai Davies points out, “trust me, when Her Majesty says ‘I want it to happen,’ [it will take] a very brave chairman or commissioner or home secretary to say ‘No, you can’t’.” 

Having a smaller number of working royals is the simplest way to cut security costs in one fell swoop. The Duke of Kent, Prince and Princess Michael of Kent and Princess Alexandra could be quietly cut adrift without any danger to their security. In the wake of the death of Prince Philip in April, attention has inevitably turned to what will happen when the Queen also dies and Charles’s much-heralded “slimmed-down monarchy” actually takes shape. Along with his plan for a cull from 12 to around six working royals, a reduction in the number of palaces would bring down the bill since it is cheaper to house royals in a single secure compound like Kensington Palace or St James’s Palace than spread them around in their own private residences like Prince Harry’s Frogmore Cottage or the Prince of Wales’s Caernarvonshire cottage. But the free-spending Charles might be reluctant to downsize his property portfolio when he is on the throne.

Public money could also be saved by the new king taking fewer foreign trips, which, with his large entourage, can involve two or three costly recces by his security detail. Then again, he could pay for some of his family’s security from his own pocket, as the Queen is known to do for Prince Andrew and perhaps for Prince Edward and Princess Alexandra, too. It might also save money if private security firms did some of this work, and Simon Morgan, who runs such a business, told me that he might be interested in pitching for it: “It is quite an easy crossover from Trojan’s perspective. All our staff-members are either former royal protection officers or ministerial protection officers. Therefore, the client knows the standard they are getting, and we would always be interested in having that conversation.” But he did accept that private firms could never provide the comprehensive back-up support available from the Met Police.

Security for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge during an official visit to Poland

More use of electronic surveillance of the sort I encountered at Anmer Hall could bring the bill down by replacing the more costly manpower, but, as Dai Davies points out, “if you are going to protect all these palaces, castles and homes, it costs money. And you can supplement it with technology, but the best technology is the human brain, based on experience and being well led.”

But, at the end of the day, if you want to make savings on royal security, the best approach – as Dai Davies has stressed – might be to work from the top down. First, ensure that the sovereign and their immediate family of working royals are properly protected, and then decide which royal “hangers-on” are surplus to requirements. Such a strategic approach could also allow for a more transparent, comprehensive budget. If in the future you considered all this as part of a single budget, as opposed to the present arrangement whereby the security is paid for by the Home Office and the royal household expenditure through the government’s general Consolidated Fund, then the public would get a much better understanding of the total cost of the monarchy. At present, the Palace likes to present the total figure for the royal family at around £85 million a year (or just £1.23 for each British citizen), although most royal financial experts put the true figure at closer to £250-300 million when you factor in all the hidden costs, such as Met Police costs, the local police costs, and the organisational cost to local councils of royal visits.

The first step to bringing down royal protection costs would be for the Palace to be more upfront about their finances in general. The only period of the year when there is some openness is around now, at the end of June and the beginning of July, when the royal annual reports for the Sovereign Grant, the Crown Estate and the household of Prince Charles are released to the media. But if the government can give us the full details for the £85 million spent on the royal household, why can’t they say anything about the cost of royal security which is probably double that figure?

David McClure is the author of Royal Legacy and The Queen’s True Worth.

Illustrations: Seamus Jennings for Tortoise

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