Threat to Charles: Bodyguards' four-second delay was 'total failure': Reaction time of royal protection officers and effectiveness of Australian team questioned by experts

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The Independent Online
THE PERSONAL security surrounding the Prince of Wales was called into question last night when recordings of the attack in Australia showed that bodyguards took almost four seconds to come to his aid.

A former Royal Military Police bodyguard said security 'failed totally' in the crucial seconds between the first shot being fired and the Prince being shielded. While some experts described the actions of Royalty and Diplomatic Protection Group officers as 'perfect', others said they fell short of their own one-second reaction targets.

There was universal praise for the bravery of Prince Charles's personal bodyguard of 13 years, Chief Superintendent Colin Trimming, who threw himself between the Prince and his attacker, David Kang, 23, but there were doubts over the speed of British protection officers, the effectiveness of the Australians and the fact that a man with a starting pistol was able to get within yards of the heir to the throne.

Darryl McElroy, a former Royal Military Police corporal who protected ambassadors and diplomats, was the first to question the speed of the Prince's bodyguards.

'My opinion is that security failed totally,' he said. 'Once officers realised what happened, they appeared to move quickly. But if you study timed film of the incident, you can see that there was a serious delay between the first shot being fired and the Prince being pushed out of the way.'

A video of the incident recorded by Sky News shows that there was a 3.97-second delay between Kang's first shot and the moment Prince Charles was pushed aside.

In that time, Kang had time to run from a grassed area, leap on to the stage on which the Prince was due to speak and trip up a few feet from him. One Australian report cited a witness who claimed that Kang stood up and fired a shot into the air before rushing at the stage.

Paul Condon, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said Chief Supt Trimming and his colleagues performed well. Reviewing a video of the incident on BBC News, Terry O'Connell, a former Metropolitan Police Commander, said Mr Trimming reacted perfectly, pushing Prince Charles aside, checking that the assailant had been overpowered and then returning to the Prince to provide protection.

There were doubts, however, from Brian Hilliard, a former police officer and editor of Police Review. He said that no amount of training could prepare for unexpected incidents and 'cranks'. But he added: 'When it does happen, the reaction times are expected to be within a second. Three seconds or more is definitely dodgy.'

Menachem Cohen, an Israeli-trained VIP protection specialist with Communication Control Systems, a risk management consultancy, said there were obvious lapses.

'I wouldn't blame the man closest to the Prince,' he said. 'You have to ask questions first of the outer layers of protection. Why was Prince Charles allowed to be so exposed on a stage? Why wasn't his attacker stopped long before he got to the stage? Where was the barrier between the people and the Prince's inner circle of bodyguards? All these questions must be answered.'

Royal security is handled by officers of SO14, the Royal and Diplomatic Protection Group. Scotland Yard refuses to discuss publicly the size or cost of the group, how members are trained, or the methods used to protect the Royal Family.

SO14's main duties involve close personal protection for chosen members of the Royal Family and the year-round monitoring of royal residences. Their job is made particularly difficult by the insistence of the Royal Family that they will not be over-protected. Recently, the Princess of Wales said she was dispensing with the services of close bodyguards in order to lead a more normal life.

Terry Griffiths, the New South Wales police minister, hinted that his officers might have been hamstrung by the casual approach. Rejecting charges that Australian police did not act quickly enough, he said they were simply following guidelines laid down by Buckingham Palace.

The advice was that 'there are to be no security forces between the prince and the public when royalty visits Australia', he said. But security is to be increased regardless of the palace's request.

(Photographs omitted)