Blair orders inquiry into royal security

Palace may take legal action after it is embarrassed over Bush visit

An emergency investigation into the security of the Royal Household was ordered by Tony Blair yesterday after a journalist was employed as a footman at Buckingham Palace in the weeks before President George Bush's state visit.

The breach is the latest débâcle surrounding the safety of the Queen and her family and is hugely embarrassing to royal officials and David Blunkett, the Home Secretary.

A reporter for the Daily Mirror who worked at Buckingham Palace for two months was able to take photographs of the bedrooms, dinning rooms and bathrooms of the Royal Family. The pictures included the bed in which Mr Bush and his wife, Laura, are sleeping during their stay. The palace said yesterday it had contacted the newspaper and the reporter, and was considering legal action for a breach of confidentiality.

The breach was revealed as the President arrived in Britain for a visit that has prompted an unprecedented multimillion- pound security operation.

Officials at the palace seem to have failed to check properly the references of the journalist, who successfully applied for a job as a footman.

Mr Blunkett, who made an emergency statement to MPs on the incident yesterday, announced the setting up of an inquiry by the little-known Security Commission.

The body, whose members come from the worlds of defence, politics and the judiciary, will have until the end of the year to produce a report.

The Home Secretary insisted criminal record vetting procedures on the reporter were done "robustly and correctly". But he added: "I am concerned that the system as a whole needs to be reviewed urgently.

"The Prime Minister, with the support of the Royal Household, is therefore asking the Security Commission, which is an independent body responsible for overseeing breaches of security, to conduct a thorough review.

"I would expect this to cover all aspects of the process of checking those who form part of the Royal Household."

The security blunder is the third to involve the Royal Family in the past year. In June, royal protection officers failed to prevent the comedian Aaron Barschak, dressed as Osama bin Laden, from gatecrashing Prince William's 21st birthday party at Windsor Castle, despite setting off seven alarms and being filmed on at least five surveillance cameras.

Six month earlier a drunken intruder walked unchallenged past three armed officers at St James's Palace, the London home of the Prince of Wales.

The Security Commission includes Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, 70, a senior family law judge, and Sir John Foley, the former chief of Ministry of Defence Intelligence, who is also a former head of the SAS.

The commission, established in 1964, has met only three times in 17 years: in 1986, 1995 and 2000.

Its final report is likely to lead to a more robust checking system for future members of staff, a job that could be given to Scotland Yard.

David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, said: "This is clearly a grave and worrying breach of security at a very important time. The potential consequences are obviously very serious.

"Important lessons should have been learnt after the security breach in Windsor Castle earlier this year."

In August, Ryan Parry, a reporter for the Daily Mirror, responded to a job advertisement on a recruitment page of the Buckingham Palace official website. On his CV, he excluded details of his journalistic career and included one fake reference and a real one, the newspaper claimed.

The Mirror published pictures yesterday of Mr Parry dressed in red livery and shots from inside the palace, including the President's bedroom, the Queen's breakfast table and the Duke of York's room, complete with soft toys.

He was due to serve breakfast to the President's top aides this morning, the newspaper said.He claimed he was given a full, all-areas security pass on his first day and had direct access to the Queen's food.

Mr Parry said that, just days ago, amid the security arrangements for the President's visit, he was able to walk through rooms Mr Bush and his wife would use and take photographs of the bedroom.

Buckingham Palace, which is responsible for the employment checks, confirmed that an internal inquiry had been opened and has refused to rule out taking legal action against the Mirror and Mr Parry, who was thought to have signed a confidentiality agreement before starting work.

A senior Scotland Yard officer said police were "vigorously" investigating the matter.

Up to 16,000 police officers are being deployed to protect the President and his entourage during their four-day stay in Britain. Yesterday, the American party encountered generally good-humoured protests from several hundred demonstrators.

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