The Conservatives in Brighton: The pounds 2.2m bill for Fortress Brighton: Stephen Ward examines conference security, which centres on a compound guarded by 1,600 police officers

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Indy Politics
BRIGHTON'S Conference Centre, and the Grand Hotel next door, scene of the 1984 IRA bombing, have been turned into a secure compound area, guarded by 1,600 police at a cost of pounds 2.2m.

The 1988 Conservative conference was the first held in Brighton since the bomb, and further measures have been added to the precautions made then, following the IRA mortar attack on Downing Street in January 1991. It amounts to probably the tightest security measures to date for a conference on mainland Britain.

In 1988 the metal crowd barriers were temporary affairs. This year dozens of permanent holes have been sunk into the roadway, so they would deflect a car trying to ram-raid the building.

The representatives, who have already been vetted well in advance before being given photopasses, are funnelled down a snaking pathway of barriers and through a long underground tunnel, before even reaching the security barriers. They are body- searched, their hands checked back and front for explosives with an electronic device, and all metal objects put through an X-ray machine. From street to seat in the hall, the process was taking 15 minutes yesterday morning.

The personal checks are just the most obvious signs. Out to sea two armed policemen are patrolling in an inflatable boat. A minesweeper is on standby further out. Spotters and marksmen are poised on the top of the high buildings around the compound. For several weeks in advance police vetted visitors to hotels and guest houses throughout Brighton to prevent terrorist reconnaissance missions or the advance planting of a bomb with a timing device, the method used for the 1984 attack.

All letter boxes, unused cupboards and waste bins in the area have been searched and sealed. Aircraft have been excluded from a five-mile-wide area 1,000ft high, enforced by police helicopters.

Police with blue overalls and sniffer dogs as well as electronic explosive detectors, have been called to several false alarms already. On Tuesday evening Brighton shopping centre was evacuated and a parcel - which turned out to contain training shoes - was blown up by police. At 4am yesterday an area of Hove was evacuated after a hoax call.

Representatives seem to have been accepting the delays and restrictions cheerfully, as you would expect from the party of law and order. Only one man, apparently not used to having to wait for things, tried to argue with police, as he arrived at 9.55am yesterday. 'There's a bloody great queue. I'm supposed to be in at 10 o'clock,' he protested. No exceptions could be made, a policeman patiently pointed out.