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Queen Elizabeth: Policing of funeral arrangements was carried out with aplomb

Here's my latest column in The Scotsman, published 26 September 2022.

So at last Operation London Bridge, the plan for the funeral arrangements of Queen Elizabeth, was put into action.

It had been on the stocks for over 20 years. Annually, like clockwork, police, military, Cabinet Office and many more would gather at Buckingham Palace to revisit the plan and discuss any changes. Every detail was scrutinised, the location and numbers of the crush barriers we would need, the ever-changing threat assessments for VIPs, it was all double checked.

The optional Scottish element, Operation Unicorn, was always a strong possibility, not least because the late Queen’s declared her wish to retire to Balmoral.

Now, sadly, the old plan had to be implemented, the only change, to my recollection, was the absence of the Royal Train.

It went like clockwork, both in Scotland and in London. No plan survives contact with reality, but if there were glitches they were patched so quickly as to be unnoticeable. Flexibility is always the sign of a good plan.

Most assumptions proved accurate, particularly the large, well-behaved crowds with just a few troublemakers. Our Royal family have always attracted a huge and loyal following along with a small number of the overwrought, the obsessed, and the opportunistic, determined to grab a platform for their cause.

So it was no surprise there were a handful of detentions and arrests in Edinburgh or that some familiar voices were quick to complain that the rights to freedom of speech and to protest were inalienable, no matter how much offence was given. It’s not true, of course.

There is freedom of speech, but not to abuse or conduct yourself in a disorderly manner likely to cause a breach of the peace. It’s our ancient common law and it makes common sense.

There’s a simple test . Ask yourself if the conduct displayed would be tolerated in a school playground, in a packed sports stadium, or a family funeral. Would it be freedom of speech to shout "fire” in a crowded theatre as a practical joke? Of course not – and we all know it.

Shouting insults at a mourner in the Queen’s funeral procession sounds like conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace. As does holding placards daubed with obscenities. Such behaviour was likely to cause offence – even if not designed to – with all the potential for a violent response. Police officers not only had the right, but the duty to intervene to prevent disorder and possible injury.

However, instead of complaining about a handful of outliers, we should celebrate the behaviour of the vast majority. We are a country politically divided as never before, yet over the days of ceremony, tens of thousands of Scots peacefully lined the streets and visited St Giles Cathedral.

Presumably many would have had strong and conflicting views on many matters, but set them aside out of decency and respect for a grand old lady who had done her duty so unfailingly.

As for Police Scotland and their many partners, with COP26 and Operation Unicorn completed with such aplomb, they deserve our hearty congratulations. But rest assured there will be no resting on laurels. It will be debrief and back to the drawing board.

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