British police 'showed restraint' against royal protesters
Britain's top police officer said Friday that armed officers showed "enormous restraint" by not using their weapons against student protesters who attacked the car of Prince Charles and his wife.
The royal couple looked shocked as demonstrators hurled missiles at their Rolls Royce as they travelled to the theatre in central London late Thursday, shortly after the government survived a vote to raise university fees.
The royal party was allowed to drive into central London despite huge demonstrations against the fees increase at the Houses of Parliament around a kilometre (mile) away which turned violent.
Sir Paul Stephenson, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, said the royals' route was thoroughly surveyed minutes earlier and blamed the "unpredictability of -- I was going to call them these demonstrators -- but these thugs."
"I do think that the officers who were protecting their royal highnesses showed very real restraint, some of those officers were armed," he told BBC radio.
"Their priority was to get that car to a point of safety and that was achieved. But it was a hugely shocking incident and there will be a full criminal investigation into it."
Asked if that meant the royal protection officers could have opened fire on the protesters he said: "I think you and your listeners can draw their own conclusion.
"We do have armed officers who protect principals and I think we've got to remember on occasions that their task is to protect their principals and get them to their venue and make sure they're as safe as possible.
"And sometimes we've got to remember they show enormous restraint and great judgment in the most difficult of circumstances."
The police chief said Charles and Camilla "ought to be commended for their fortitude in the situation."
But former police officer Charles Shoebridge said the incident "ranks amongst the most serious security breaches of the past decade."
Stephenson later defended the general policing of the protest, which saw thousands of demonstrators raining missiles on riot squad officers as they tried to storm the finance ministry and supreme court.
Thirty-four people were arrested and at least 43 protesters and 12 police officers were injured, according to police figures.
"My officers came under some terrible attacks," Stephenson said in a statement to reporters outside New Scotland Yard.
Charles, the heir to the throne, and his second wife were attending the Royal Variety Performance at the London Palladium, an annual variety show held to raise money for charity, when their car was attacked.
As a smiling Camilla left the performance, she told reporters: "I'm fine thanks -- first time for everything."
© 2010 AFP