Police bodyguards to be issued with stun guns to protect the Royals from protesters
Police officers protecting the Royal Family are being issued with controversial taser stun guns following the attack on Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, by student protesters last year.
The image of the Duchess of Cornwall open-mouthed in shock as her limousine came under attack led to a review of the way the Royal Family is protected.
Asked whether the highly trained officers had considered opening fire on the protesters, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson said they had shown "enormous restraint".
But privately senior Metropolitan Police officers admit that they had been "virtually powerless" on the night the Royal couple were attacked.
The senior Royal protection officer on duty, Inspector Bob Fulton, was in the backup car cut off from the Royals by the crowd.
Police firearms rules prevented him from drawing his weapon, a standard issue 'Glock' pistol, unless "strictly proportionate" to protect the Royals from "violence which poses a real and immediate risk to life".
The rules, drawn up by the Association of Chief Police Officers and amended last year, meant that even "pointing or aiming" a weapon at another person counts as "use" of a firearm.
Now, after a review of the Royal Protection Squad's procedures, commanders have been told to use the option to arm officers with X26 Tasers to allow "informed decisions on firearms deployment".
It is understood a new Strategic Threat and Risk Assessment suggests the weapons should be regularly issued to close protection teams. Tasers have a range of 21 feet and can be also used to deliver an electric shock to an assailant at close quarters.
Until recently, S014, the royal protection squad, had 20 Tasers but had only been issuing them to officers at "static protection posts on Royal premises". It is understood the squad had opted out of issuing the stun guns to officers on close protection duties.
Diplomatic Protection officers from SO16 had also been using the weapons for "static protection posts and mobile patrols around diplomatic premises in Central London".
Now new police guidance says that "the availability of less lethal weapons and tactical options are intended to provide officers, including those issued with conventional firearms, with a 'differentiated use of force and firearms'.
"Less lethal weapons will, where appropriate, be deployed alongside conventional firearms and other less lethal technologies and options available to firearms officers."
Last night a Scotland Yard spokesman confirmed "all armed units" in the Metropolitan Police now had "access to this less lethal option".
The spokesman added: "A decision was made that carriage of Taser when required should no longer be an option."
Last night former Royal Protection Officer Inspector Ken Wharfe, who was in charge of the security of Diana, Princess of Wales, and Prince William and Harry when they were children, questioned the thinking behind the decision to deploy Tasers in this way.
He said: "The Taser is ideally suited for dealing with disturbed people in a domestic environment. "Carrying a Taser will lead to confusion about which weapon to use.
"A Taser will just complicate issues and it is another piece of equipment which somebody has got to handle. When you are in a protection environment you want the least amount of kit possible."