UK police to mount major security operation for Thatcher funeral

Authorities will stage a major operation at St Paul's Cathedral as fears of terrorist threats rise

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 April, 2013, 2:49am


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Police are to mount a major security operation at the funeral of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher at St Paul's Cathedral on Wednesday amid growing fears about the threat posed by dissident Irish republican terrorists and far-left groups.

Commander David Martin, who has a counter-terrorism background, will oversee initial planning for the policing operation, according to the London Metropolitan Police.

Thatcher, who was targeted by the Irish Republican Army in the 1984 Brighton bombing in retaliation for the hardline stance she took in the 1981 hunger strikes, lost two close political allies in republican attacks.

A number of world leaders are expected to attend the "ceremonial funeral". Invitations are yet to be formally issued, and as it is not a state funeral, countries are not automatically expected to send heads of state or their representatives.

British lawmakers yesterday returned early from Easter recess to pay tribute to Thatcher. Such sessions are usual for former premiers, but are brief. More than seven hours has been set aside for Thatcher, a reflection of her status as one of the most iconic - and divisive - leaders.

Prime Minister David Cameron led the praise, remembering her as "incredibly formidable in argument but incredibly kind in private". "Let this be her epitaph: That she made our country great again," Cameron told a packed room of lawmakers.

Opposition leader Ed Miliband was the first Labour Party lawmaker to give tribute, saying that Thatcher was "the prime minister who defined her age". He disagreed with much of what she did but regarded her as "a unique and towering figure".

Several left-wing legislators said they would skip the session, including former housing minister John Healey, who said Thatcher's "legacy is too bitter to warrant this claim to national mourning".

Labour lawmaker Ronnie Campbell, whose northern England district was hard hit by Thatcher's reforms, told BBC Radio he would rather be "in a torture chamber" than in the UK parliament.

Let this be her epitaph: That she made our country great again
Prime Minister David Cameron


Years of planning for the funeral were put into action on Tuesday when Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, whose late father, Angus, served in Thatcher's first cabinet, chaired a meeting of the True Blue operation. Maude briefed the prime minister about the preparations at the daily 8.30am Downing Street meeting.

A friend of the family attended the meeting about the funeral, which is being carefully organised to respect the wishes of Thatcher. It is understood that the government will advise the family on the guest list.

Her children, Sir Mark Thatcher and twin sister Carol, will have the final say.

In the family's first public comments, Mark said Carol and the rest of their family had been "overwhelmed" by messages of support they had received from around the globe. He said his mother would have been "greatly honoured as well as humbled" by Queen Elizabeth's decision to attend her funeral, a rare honour from the monarch only accorded to Sir Winston Churchill in 1965.

Palace officials described it as a "unique" occasion.

The body of Britain's first woman prime minister was moved by private ambulance in the early hours of yesterday from the Ritz hotel suite where, according to friends, she died at 11.28am on Monday after suffering a stroke while sitting in bed reading a book.

The police will mount a large operation as they take account of challenges ranging from dissident IRA terrorists to far-left activists who may use the funeral to show their contempt for Thatcher. Police were called to a number of incidents in London and Glasgow on Monday night after a series of "parties" were held to "celebrate" Thatcher's death.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse