Five star luxury of Blairs' police squad: Astonishing £5,000 a week expense claims (right down to £1.19 packet of Percy Pigs)By Jason Lewis
Last updated at 3:31 AM on 4th July 2010
The extraordinary cost to the taxpayer of protecting former Prime Minister Tony Blair as he travels the globe earning his vast fortune can be revealed by The Mail on Sunday today.
His team of bodyguards are costing taxpayers £250,000 a year in expenses alone as they stay in some of the world’s most exclusive locations, running up vast bills for luxury hotels and expensive meals while Mr Blair swells his £20 million personal fortune.
Our investigation also reveals that total spending on Royal and diplomatic protection squad expenses has reached more than £1.5 million so far this year, with officers claiming for everything from luxury hotels to petty items such as Percy Pig sweets and chocolate chip cookies.
The expenses claims seen by The Mail on Sunday only represent a small part of the total cost to the taxpayer of the protection squad, which also includes the huge cost of hundreds of international flights and a burgeoning wages bill.
Sources also say that officers are given a generous 24-hour overtime rate while abroad – meaning they are paid even when they are asleep. They are regarded as being on duty around the clock, so get three days’ pay for every day they are abroad – ‘treble bubble’ in police canteen slang.
The revelations will raise new questions about the high cost of providing bodyguards to former politicians and whether wealthy individuals such as Mr Blair should be asked to contribute to the spiralling costs.
little over three hours’ work.
Documents seen by The Mail on Sunday show the highest claims come from the squad protecting Mr Blair on his luxury holidays and international business trips – whose expenses amount to nearly £5,000 a week. Their annual figure was nearly double the £135,000 submitted by the officers protecting Gordon Brown in his last year as Prime Minister. Former Tory Prime Minister Sir John Major’s bodyguards cost the taxpayer a further £119,000 in expenses bills.
Last night Scotland Yard refused to discuss the issue beyond confirming that protection officers’ overtime rates were among the highest in the force. But the revelations come as the Government plans huge cuts in Home Office expenditure with large numbers of police officers expected to be made redundant.
Tory MP Richard Bacon, a member of the powerful Commons’ public accounts committee, said last night: ‘It is right and proper for the taxpayer to fund protection services for former Prime Ministers and ensure their safety.
‘But it is surely wrong for the hard-pressed public – especially at a time of massive spending cutbacks – to be spending such large amounts of public money protecting them while they travel the world on trips often designed purely for their personal financial gain.
‘It really is time that former Premiers in this situation made a contribution from their own considerable earnings towards the cost of their security.’
Wherever Mr Blair travels, a team of up to five personal bodyguards from the Metropolitan Police SO1 Specialist Protection unit – which provides armed personal protection for Ministers, public officials and visiting foreign dignitaries at threat from terrorism – go as well.
Mr Blair now spends much of his time abroad, either in his international diplomatic role, as a UN Middle East envoy, on his lucrative business dealings or on holiday.
During a two-week break in Borneo last summer, officers ran up a total bill of almost £22,000 on their Metropolitan Police Barclaycard.
This was immediately followed by Tony and Cherie making a week-long visit the luxurious and exclusive Como Shambhala health retreat in Bali, where the cost of the three-man police team’s stay was £6,873.
An October holiday to the private Turks and Caicos island resort of Parrot Cay involved another expenses bill of £6,247; while Mr Blair’s bodyguards paid £721 to stay in a hotel last July when the former Premier was the guest of the world’s fourth richest man, Oracle software head Larry Ellison aboard his £150million super yacht The Rising Sun off Sardinia.
As well as the holidays, police officers have accompanied Mr Blair on more than 21 international trips in the first four months of 2010 to destinations including Abu Dhabi, Jordan, Liberia, China, Israel, Singapore, Malaysia and the USA.
On New Year’s Eve several members of Mr Blair’s protection team were deployed in Oxford. One officer claimed £984 for five nights in the Malmaison Hotel, while the team also claimed a £213.84 restaurant bill, which they said was so high because of the extra costs of eating out on December 31.
Other expenses seen by The Mail on Sunday include:
- £464 a night to stay at the elegant Carlyle Hotel on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, where they also claimed £56 for pizzas plus a £5 tip, which was queried by the accounts department.
- £150 for limousine hire after a helicopter taking Mr Blair and his bodyguards from New York to Yale University had to turn back in bad weather.
- £280 a night for the American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem; £348 a night at the Kempinski hotel, Dubai; £180 a night at the Sofitel, Brussels; and £414 a night in the Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi.
- £3,020 in cash to cover expenses for a trip to Sierra Leone in February, which they spent without obtaining receipts.
- £6,693 for one officer flying from Jerusalem to Jeddah, then on to Kuala Lumpur, then Indonesia, Singapore and Washington DC on a ‘recce’ trip to assess the security situation for planned future trips by Mr Blair. In the process he stayed in some of the world’s finest hotels, including one night at the Jeddah Hilton which cost £1,264. He was told the room rate was so high as the hotel was full of pilgrims stranded by the volcanic ash cloud that grounded flights.
- £4,800 for one month’s expenses by one officer who was forced to stay overseas for 22 days, also because of the volcanic ash disruption.
- £38.73 for two white teas, a chocolate milkshake, an ‘Olympic’ breakfast, mixed grill and a rib eye steak at the Little Chef in Bicester, Oxfordshire.
‘Police officer terms and conditions are highly regulated. Overtime is called upon when it is essential to maintain operational effectiveness.
‘The few officers receiving significant payments in respect of overtime are mainly in undercover roles or in Royalty and diplomatic protection units. In such areas working time is determined by the operational circumstances and, in the case of protection officers, requirements of the principal [the VIP they are protecting].
‘We monitor and scrutinise levels of overtime and expenses. We have focused, and continue to focus, on reducing overtime costs and have provided more effective support to management in monitoring overtime.
‘The Metropolitan Police Service seeks to book the cheapest travel available, bearing in mind operational demands. All overseas travel by members of the service is subject to authorisation by a senior police officer or a senior member of police staff in overall charge of a business area, and must be justified and supported by a business case.
‘The Met expects its staff to behave professionally, ethically and with the utmost integrity at all times. Any allegation that the conduct of our officers has fallen below this standard is treated extremely seriously.’
Last night a spokeswoman for the Home Office, which oversees the funding of the diplomatic and Royal protection squads, would not discuss the budget for their work.
She said: ‘We do not comment on operational policing matters for security reasons.’
The policeman sweet on Percy Pigs – and olympic breakfastsThe elite protection officers have a liking for sweets and unhealthy breakfasts while on duty.
Hidden in the detail of a £3,500 bill from last May is a claim, made by an officer protecting Tony Blair, for snacks from the Aylesbury branch of Marks & Spencer – including a packet of ‘Percy Pig’ chews.
The pig-shaped raspberry-flavoured sweets sell for £1.19 and were picked by Vogue magazine as a ‘hot trend’ in 2008. The same officer also claimed for a Little Chef ‘Olympic’ breakfast on a trip to Bicester, where he was joined by three other officers.
The group also ordered a mixed grill and a rib-eye steak. Mr Blair’s protection team are not the only officers with a sweet tooth. One officer who travelled with the then Foreign Secretary David Miliband last year filed claims from around the world for chocolate cookies. Bills for stops at motorway service areas from several officers feature claims for Mars Bars and Snickers.
The male sergeant who put in claim for women’s clothesA male protection officer who accompanied Princes William and Harry to the World Cup in Africa claimed for women’s clothing to take on the trip.
The experienced sergeant submitted receipts totalling £308.55 and was reimbursed for £300, the limit for such claims.
He attached a note for his Chief Superintendent explaining: ‘Prior to this trip I purchased some warm weather clothing in accordance with the warm weather clothing allowance to the value of £300 and as agreed by Ms ****** and authorised by Chief Inspector ****.
‘Please may I be refunded these expenses. I have not previously claimed this allowance in nine years of overseas travel with SO14.’
However, close inspection reveals that the attached receipt for White Stuff, which totalled £224.95, included three pieces of women’s clothing.
The three items, a ‘Broken String’ blouse, priced £37.50, a ‘Poppy’ shirt, priced £37.50, and ‘Here To Stay’ shorts, priced £29.95, were all approved by Scotland Yard, along with the officer’s other purchases.
£35k bill for three Blair jaunts (that’s EXCLUDING flights)
Tony and Cherie Blair took three luxurious holidays abroad last year accompanied by a contingent of highly trained armed protection officers paid for by the British taxpayer.
Nexus Resort, Borneo, July-August 2009When Tony and Cherie Blair flew to Borneo on a family holiday at the secluded five-star Nexus Resort in Karammbunai, their taxpayer-funded police officers were
The Blairs and their police officers stayed at the resort for two weeks and by the time they left the officers had run up a total bill on their Metropolitan Police Barclaycard of almost £22,000. The ‘dream destination’, set on a beautiful white sandy spit of land that juts into the South China Sea and surrounded by tropical rain forests, is the perfect retreat for the rich and famous.
The Blairs relaxed in a Royal Villa, the most expensive accommodation offered by the resort – and the three-man police team stayed next door in a similar £1,200-a-night six-bed villa, even though single rooms were available from £150.
There are only six exclusive Royal and Presidential Villas at the resort, each with a private garden, spacious living and dining areas, panoramic views of the sea and their own swimming pools and Jacuzzi.
A ‘protection command report’ attached to the claim says: ‘Sir, This report related to accommodation and other charges on my Visa bill for August to September 2009.
‘RT Hon Tony Blair to a family holiday in Borneo... members of the Protection team ******, were housed in a Royal Villa next to the Principal – the charge was approximately £1,000 a night.
‘This accommodation was wholly necessary for the integrity of the protection operation and was authorised by my team leader
'Other sundry items appear on this bill including food and soft drinks and laundry. All expenditure was authorised
by DI *****’
The cost included a laundry bill of nearly £200. A handwritten note explains ‘essential laundry due to climate and humidity’.
The officers also hired a Toyota Ninja landcruiser as a ‘back-up vehicle’ at a cost of £1,700 and spent a further £70 on taxi fares.
SHAMBHALA ESTATE, BALI, AUGUST 2009The Shambhala Estate describes itself as a residential health retreat promising ‘total commitment to your improved well-being’.
Tony and Cherie Blair travelled to the resort for a week-long break and once again SO1 officers were there to provide close protection.
Three officers shared a luxury villa at the resort which cost £6,873. They enjoyed several sumptuous meals in the resort’s Glow restaurant, described in the brochure as ‘a contemporary, open-sided, all-day dining restaurant’.
Three officers also dined at Kemiri Restaurant, enjoying beef salad, followed by lamb fillet, pork belly and tender loin with french fries, washed down with orange juice and sparkling water. The bills contain no claims for alcohol as the officers were on duty and are barred from drinking.
The three finished with different desserts, opting for apple crumble, chocolate fondant and passion fruit.
Documents reveal that one officer also spent US $60 plus taxes for a four-hour elephant safari and ‘four seasons’ tour and another US $24 for ‘tour to elephant safari’. It is not known if he was accompanying the Blairs on the excursion.
The high level of expenses claims were queried by Scotland Yard. A report explaining one officer from SO1’s visa bill relating to the trip says: ‘£6873.51 related to accommodation at Commo Shambhama Estate at Begawan Giri, Bali... for the protection team covering the summer holiday of (Tony Blair).
‘I can confirm that the accommodation was a shared villa occupied by *****. The cost covers the cost of accommodation, food, laundry and transport taken by the officers during the stay.
‘Due to the remoteness of the location the officers were unable to take meals anywhere else other than within the estate, it would have compromised the protection package if meals were taken elsewhere.’
PARROT CAY, TURKS AND CAICOS, OCTOBER 2009Parrot Cay describes itself as the Caribbean’s ‘pre-eminent private island’, offering the super rich 1,000 unspoilt acres, ‘health-giving cuisine’ and beach houses with private pools.
Documents reveal that a team of four officers were deployed to look after Mr and Mrs Blair. Two travelled in advance and two arrived later with the Blairs. The team were housed in a villa during the week-long stay and ran up a bill of £6,247.
The cost again raised eyebrows in the accounts department at Scotland Yard.
Justifying the cost, one of the officers wrote: ‘In order that the Principal was provided with discreet but effective protection from his team, it was necessary to locate one accompanying officer within his villa and house the remaining officers in an adjoining villa. The cost of this arrangement was negotiated to the same level rate at the main hotel (ie $390 per person, per night) – £257 each per night.’
The officers’ itemised bill for their stay shows they made regular use of the Lotus poolside bar where several of them met up for lunch each day.
Each evening the officers retired to their villa – a three-bedroom house set in an acre and a half of its own land with a huge sun deck and its own infinity pool and direct access to the beach – where they ordered a room service dinner.