Royal links of the Commons invaders

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Two of the eight men believed to have stormed the House of Commons during the pro-hunt protests on Wednesday are close friends of the Prince of Wales and his sons. One of the men is considered by Prince Charles to be a "safe pair of hands" for William and Harry.

Three other alleged protesters form part of the close-knit country set that dominates the upper echelons of society in Gloucestershire, home to the Prince of Wales's Highgrove estate. Far from being the representative cross-section of society that pro-hunt campaigners claim they attract, the majority of those held are wealthy and well connected.

The Countryside Alliance moved to distance itself yesterday from the storming of the Commons chamber, but it appears that some opponents of the hunting ban are prepared to use violent means to further their cause. Labour MPs who supported the hunting ban have received threats that their offices will be attacked. Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, was warned that his constituency office would be targeted by hunt supporters. The father of one of the eight men arrested after the storming of the Commons warned that the clashes on Wednesday were merely "the start of a lot of trouble in the countryside".

The breach of security at Parliament has prompted a fundamental overhaul of the way MPs and peers are protected. Armed police are now guarding the Palace of Westminster for the first time in its history.

Despite the heightened security, there was further embarrassment last night when it emerged that an undercover reporter was able to smuggle fake bomb-making equipment into the House of Commons.

Peter Hain, the Leader of the Commons, called for a new director of security to replace the present system of "men in tights" ­ the Serjeant-at-Arms and his sword-carrying officers.

While pro-hunt campaigners claimed their protests showed the nationwide strength of feeling against the hunting ban, a rather different picture of the Commons protesters emerged. Luke Tomlinson, 27, one of the eight, is a childhood friend of princes William and Harry, attended the same school, Eton, and is favoured by Prince Charles. The other protesters are believed to be: Robert Thame, a polo player; Nick Wood, a former royal chef; John Holliday, a bloodstock agent from Ledbury, Herefordshire; David Redvers, a stud owner from Hartpury, Gloucestershire; Andrew Elliot, a horse auctioneer from the Ledbury area; Richard Wakeham, a point-to-point jockey from Yorkshire; and Otis Ferry.

Mr Thame, 33, is a professional polo player and the fourth main member of the Highgrove polo team alongside the three princes.

Princes William and Harry were refused permission to join the Countryside Alliance march in 2002 but were prominent on the balcony of St James's Palace during the event. Both have been photographed hunting with the Beaufort.

A spokeswoman for the League Against Cruel Sports said: "The Countryside Alliance has gone out of its way to convince people that it represents all sections of society. But people on the dole can't afford to keep horses or pay for hunt balls. For the vast majority of people, hunting is an archaic sport being practised by a very small, upper-class minority."

The eight protesters are believed to have entered the Commons with the aid of a forged letter and inside help, according to police. Three were stopped at the entrance to the Commons chamber but five managed to break through. All were released early today and were bailed to return to a central London police station next month.

Police are investigating claims that the BBC ignored a tip-off that protesters were planning to take action within the Houses of Parliament.

More than 20 pro-hunt supporters have complained that police used excessive force during the protests in Parliament Square.

* Brett Parsons, 31, from Glastonbury, who was arrested outside Parliament, was charged yesterday with threatening behaviour and obstruction. The other 15 men and one woman arrested in Parliament Square were either released on bail, released without charge or issued with a fixed penalty.

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