Royal Attack Raises Questions about Security

ALTERNATIVE CROP OF LMD120 Britain's Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall react as their car is attacked, in London, Thursday, Dec. 9, 2010. Angry protesters in London have attacked a car containing Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, and his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. An Associated Press photographer saw demonstrators kick the car in Regent Street, in the heart of London's shopping district. The car then sped off. Charles' office, Clarence House, confirmed that "their royal highnesses' car was attacked by protesters on the way to their engagement at the London Palladium this evening, but their royal highnesses are unharmed." (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
AP Photo/Matt Dunham
British officials defended the country's security practices Friday amid a flurry of questions over the royal family's safety after rampaging student protesters attacked a car carrying Prince Charles and his wife Camilla.

The chief of the Metropolitan Police pledged to investigate after protesters set upon the heir to the throne's Rolls Royce as it drove through London's busy West End on Thursday night. The royal couple was attending a charity event at London's Palladium theater.

Students poured into central London to protest sharp rises in university tuition fees as lawmakers debated and passed the hikes in Parliament. Most of the students were herded by riot police into contained areas, but many groups broke free and ran through some of the city's most famous shopping areas.

CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer reports that some of the student demonstrators shouted "off with their heads," smashed a window, and splattered the royals' car with paint.

The prince's police escort quickly came to the rescue and the couple - unharmed, but clearly shocked - arrived safely at a gala variety show in central London.

Charles and Camilla put a brave face on as they emerged from the car, quickly picking up their ceremonial duties and shaking hands with a few well wishers before heading into the theater.

"They were whisked right through to hospitality where Camilla had a rather stiff brandy to calm her nerves," said CBS News contributor Neil Sean, who reports frequently on the royal family and attended the Royal Variety Show.

The security breach is embarrassing for police and the royal household in the run-up to Prince William's wedding on April 29, raising questions about whether security needs to be boosted.

VIDEO: Report from London
PICTURES: Attack on Royal Couple's Car
PICTURES: Prince Charles
PICTURES: Charles and Camilla

Protesters generally have to apply for permission to demonstrate but there's nothing to say similar protests couldn't erupt during the wedding, which is expected to draw international crowds.

Neither Buckingham Palace nor the police will comment on royal security procedures for the wedding, or how many police officers regularly accompany royal figures.

Experts cited numerous failings in planning and coordinating Thursday's royal outing, warning that the prince was lucky to have escaped unharmed.

Police should have been liaising with the royal protection squad to ensure they never came near the protests - and most certainly not in a vintage Rolls Royce, said Alex Bomberg, a former aide to the royal family and current CEO of a close protection security firm. The car reportedly only had reinforced windows and was not bullet proof.

"You can't blame the royal protection squad for a bunch of anarchists' bad behavior," Bomberg said. "But you can blame someone for not doing their job correctly and not understanding the situation as it was unfolding. Someone's head should bloody roll."

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Bomberg said using live video feeds, police should have kept the royal protection squad apprised of the situation on the ground and warned them to use a different route or to wait until the path was clear, Bomberg said. London's theater district is a maze of narrow one-way streets but other less direct routes were available. The other option would have been to cancel the outing given the protest, which drew thousands to the streets of London.

The prince's vehicle, which experts say lacks speed and maneuverability, also was a poor choice.

"You couldn't get away in an emergency in a vintage 1977 Rolls Royce," Bomberg said. "They should have used something more high powered and up to date." Without a clear escape route, the vehicle and route should never have been used, he added.

Security analyst and former police officer Charles Shoebridge called the attack one of "the most serious security breaches of the past decade."

"Some of the demonstrators yesterday were carrying petrol, specifically to use in arson attacks. If the can of paint had been a can of petrol, it would have been very different," he said.

Although riot police were used in Thursday's protests, very few of Britain's police carry fire arms.

"It wasn't potentially dangerous - it was dangerous," he said. "The best means of preventing a subject being attacked is to keep him out of harm's way in the first place."

Prime Minister David Cameron said police must learn from the incident. He stopped short, however, of blaming the police.

"Let's be very clear about where responsibility lies," said Cameron, speaking in Downing Street. "Responsibility for smashing property, or violence, lies with the people who perpetrate that violence and I want to see them arrested and punished in the correct way."

Police said 34 protesters were arrested but would not say whether any of the arrests were linked to the royal attack.

Metropolitan Police Chief Paul Stephenson commended officers for their bravery and said the nearly 3,000-strong contingent of officers showed restraint in dealing with the "thugs."