Bill will outlaw Her Majesty's burger bandits

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The Independent Online

The "Burger Bandits" of Buckingham Palace and the Royal Parks Constabulary were playing their customary game of cat and mouse yesterday.

The "Burger Bandits" of Buckingham Palace and the Royal Parks Constabulary were playing their customary game of cat and mouse yesterday.

Every 20 minutes or so the boys and girls in blue would casually stroll past the illegal traders, sending them scurrying into a nearby alleyway.

Like participants in a rather strange egg-and-spoon race, the hot-dog sellers walked at a frantic pace, pushing their tatty trolleys laden with frying onions before them. For a few seconds they would congregate, puffing on cigarettes and exchanging raucous banter, before noting that the coast was clear and re-emerging unrepentantly to their prime spots outside the gates of Buckingham Palace.

But the rules of this little game of charades are about to change and by Easter the police could have the power to confiscate the offending barrows. Yesterday the Arts minister Alan Howarth announced a Bill aimed at clamping down on the "dirty, dangerous and disreputable" trade.

"The illegal traders cheat visitors by charging exorbitant prices for food that has been prepared with no concern for food safety and hygiene. Worse, there have been reports in the media that organised crime may be behind the traders' operations, with violence and intimidation an all-too-common feature of their activities," he said.

The Queen, it appears, is also not amused by the smell of frying onions that wafts up from her front yard, and the Palace has made its views known.

Up until now, however, an anomaly in the law has meant that the Royal Parks Constabulary had lesser powers than its counterparts.

The Bill, expected to have its second reading within the next few weeks and to become law before the Easter tourist boom, will close the loophole, allowing the constabulary to raise the maximum fine from £200 to £1,000 and seize the traders' equipment.

Yesterday, the dozen or so hot-dog sellers operating around Buckingham Palace and St James's Park merely shrugged their shoulders at the news. "No speak English," replied one young man before snorting loudly and wiping his nose with the back of his hand.

One distinguished-looking local resident, clad in an expensive coat and gloves, strode past, proclaiming loudly: "So unhygienic. Oh, the smell."

Steven Van Linthout, a sports teacher, appeared quite pleased with his £2.50 sausage. But his Polish friend Patrycja Konopka, 24, took one bite and scrunched her face up in horror. "It is disgusting," she said, adding with a wry laugh: "Steven is Belgian, he likes eating things like that."

Mondi Popaj, 22, claimed - as did every other seller - to have arrived from Kosovo two months ago. He was stunned by news of forthcoming law. "How can they take my trolley? I paid for it," he said indignantly, as he twisted the sausages frying in front of him, fat spitting on to his anorak. "It is good food, we eat it ourselves. It is clean," he added.

Mondi explained that every morning, he and his counterparts gathered near the palace where the "boss" doled out the regulation sausages, buns, onions and sauce bottles from the back of a lorry. At the end of the day, he collected the takings - estimated to be as much as £10,000 a day at the height of the season - and handed Mondi £20 or £25 depending on the day. "I make a living. The boss is English. I don't know who he is. I don't have a phone number," he insisted.

Tom Corby, the Royal Parks spokesman, said yesterday that the traders considered the current fine of £200 an "occupational hazard". The police, he said, welcomed new powers, which would allow them to clear the traders from the serene environment of St James's Park.

"I understand the Palace are less than enchanted by their presence on their doorstep," he said, explaining that the police were planning a total clamp down once the new law comes into force. "We hope this is the beginning of the end for the burger bandits and their stinking barrows."