Huffpost UK

London 2012: Police Test Torch Relay Protest Procedures

Posted: Updated:

Attention-seekers rather than protesters could be the biggest threat to the Olympic torch relay, claimed Commander Bob Broadhurst, who will be in charge of the policing operation in London.

In stark contrast to the high-profile protests and strong security which marred the 2008 Beijing relay, police say they want the focus to be on the torch and its bearer.

But Broadhurst warned: "We will be as tough and robust as we need to be. Officers will use their powers under the law to protect the individual carrying the torch.

"I think the biggest threat will be attention-seekers with somebody running alongside and trying to grab a bit of the glory. I am sure we will get the odd protest every now and then around the country.

"The key point I would say is 'why would you want to spoil somebody's' big day in the sun by protesting?'"

A torch security team of 28 unarmed Metropolitan Police officers will guard the Olympic flame as it travels around Britain on a 70-day relay to the start of the Games on July 27.

They were put through their paces today in a training session which included a mock-up of a sit-down protest, someone trying to grab the torch and a passerby who wandered in to the path of the runners to try and get their picture taken.

Crime and security minister James Brokenshire also got in on the action and took part in a mock-up of a flame handover, which happens at the end of each relay leg, before he unexpectedly went for a short jog with the unlit torch.

Broadhurst said they are preparing for the different possibilities but expected the relay to be a community celebration.

Police officers from the local forces will be managing the streets and the crowds, adding to his confidence that adequate round-the-clock protection for the flame will be provided.

"Essentially we are the item of last resort if they (demonstrators) get through that our officers will prevent them and maintain the integrity of the torch and the torchbearer," he said.

The handpicked team of officers, working in a minimum group of two, are set to protect the torch and its 8,000 torchbearers.

They will run, cycle or walk alongside the Olympic flame as the torchbearers complete their 300m slot on the 8,000-mile relay.

Backroom staff supporting the protection team includes commanders, planners and a rehab therapist to help take care of team injuries or aches and pains.

The police runners have had to complete fitness testing to see if they can cope with being on their feet for up 12 hours and the stop-start nature of running the relay legs at different paces.

They have also been drilled on advanced officer training skills such as open hand protection, increased observation plus anticipation and communication since they will not be carrying protective equipment.

Above: Leadership skills were also part of the qualification criteria for becoming a 'police runner'.

A network of intelligence officers based across the country will help provide the information that Superintendent Claire Johnston, in charge of the Metropolitan Police's torch security team, will use for the changing daily plan for the relay. Runners will include members of the public, nominated as inspirational figures, and possibly some celebrities.

The relay will travel from Land's End, across Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Dublin to the lighting of the Olympic cauldron marking the start of the Games.

Brokenshire said: "While we do not anticipate this being a protest event - it is a sporting event, it is a community event but it is right and proper that we are prepared.

"We are testing. We are exercising. We are training in terms of police response but also in terms of Government itself on the exercises that have been in place for several months.

"It is so that by the time we get to the Games we can say with confidence that we are Games-ready. We are taking nothing for granted."

Of his mini torch-run, he said: "Actually holding the Olympic torch gives you a sense of what the whole event is about. It is about the Olympic spirit. Just being in a training event today and being a small part of that exercise gave me a strong sense of the professionalism of the police but also what it is going to be like for the 8,000 people who are going to be involved in this.

"There will be children who are as young as 12 running in front of their families and their communities.

"Even from that small taste that I got I think there will be a great sense of excitement ."