Campaigner breaches palace security to make five-hour stand

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The Metropolitan Police was facing fresh embarrassment over royal security last night after a Fathers 4 Justice (F4J) campaigner dressed as Batman evaded armed guards to reach a ledge near the Queen's balcony at Buckingham Palace.

The stunt, F4J's most audacious to date, occurred four months after a former SAS officer, Brigadier Jeff Cook, was appointed to shake up palace security. After spending five and a half hours on the ledge, Jason Hatch, 33, was brought down by a police mountaineering unit in a cherry-picker crane at about 7.15pm. He was taken into police custody. Two other protestors, including one dressed as Robin, were also arrested.

The Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir John Stevens, said last night the breach was "unacceptable" but said the protestor was not shot at because his clothes and behaviour did not mark him out as a terror threat. "If it had been someone carrying a bomb the probability is he would have been shot," he told the BBC.

The Home Secretary, David Blunkett, was due to make a statement to the House of Commons last night about the security breach.

Though security cameras detected the intruder - a serial protestor - armed guards were distracted by another group of protestors brandishing ladders at the main palace gates. That left Mr Hatch free to use a step ladder to scale a low wall at the opposite end of the palace and run to the main building with his accomplice Dave Pyke (dressed as Robin).

Security cameras spotted the intruders and police had guns trained on Mr Pyke before he could scale the 4ft wall but Mr Hatch made it over as palace alarms sounded.

The Queen was away at Balmoral as Mr Hatch, wearing grey tights, black pants and cape, the superhero's bat symbol and a mask with pointed ears, staged his demonstration beside the famous balcony.

F4J could scarcely conceal its glee at the coup, timed to coincide with the trial of an activist who allegedly hurled purple flour at the Prime Minister in the Commons. "We've got a guy dressed as Batman who's on Buckingham Palace on a balcony," said Matt O'Connor, a spokesman.

"He legged it past the armed guards," Mr O'Connor added.

The group said the plan was sanctioned on Saturday and executed after some basic reconnaisance last night and early this morning. Some F4J activists had joined an official tour of the building but decided to leave the protests to Mr Hatch and Mr Pyke, who began their bid at about 1.45pm. Mr Pyke said: "No one took any notice of me. I thought I would be pounced on."

A former royal press officer, Dickie Arbiter, said security officials "are going to have to go back to the drawing board".