By a Newsnet reporter
Margaret Thatcher’s funeral in St Paul’s cathedral in London today will be one of the most heavily policed events in years, with over 4,000 police officers due to be in attendance in order to control anti-Thatcher protests.
Shops lining the processional route to be taken by the funeral cortege have been instruced to hide any object which could be used by protestors as a weapon, and businesses have been asked to block off entrances in an attempt to forestall potential outbreaks of violence.
In a letter to businesses lining the route, the City of London police have issued instruction to remove “dustbins, ladders or loose tools and equipment, which could be used to gain access or used as weapons”.
Businesses have also been advised to ensure that their CCTV systems are fully operational, and to report any “suspicious behaviour” to the police. Central London will be on virtual lockdown during the event, with the route being lined with a police officer every few yards. Additional police officers are being kept ready to attend any “flashpoints” which may develop. So called “sterile areas” will be set up, which will be closed to the public.
In a statement Metropolitan police’s Commander Christine Jones said that legitimate protests would be allowed, but that the police would quickly act against any law-breaking.
Commander Jones said: “Every operation that we deliver is based upon a thorough assessment of the potential risks and threats, and we plan the most effective ways to mitigate against them. We wish to deliver our operation in a way that protects public safety within the context of a broader security operation – as with many ceremonial London events.”
“The right to conduct peaceful protest is a tenet of our democracy, however, that right is qualified in that protest does not stray into acts of crime or violence or the instigation of crime or violence.
“We will continue to review our intelligence and evidence picture, and although to date no arrests connected to the ceremonial funeral have yet been made, should the need arise to arrest those who are committing acts of crime or violence, or conspiring to do so, we will respond accordingly.”
The event is expected to attact a number of protests, organised by people who are angered by the reported cost of £12 million for what is tantamount to a state funeral for a politician who was reviled by many.
A number of groups are reportedly organising protests using online media such as Facebook or Twitter. One group plans to turn their backs on the cortege as it passes, while another group claims that it will throw milk in the road as the funeral procession passes, a reference to Thatcher’s pre-Prime Ministerial nickname “Milk Snatcher”.
More than 800 people have pledged to attend an event called “Maggie’s good riddance party”, promising a “right jolly knees-up” outside St Paul’s Cathedral, where the funeral is to be held. The protest’s Facebook page says:
“Let the world know the hypocrisy of a state-funded funeral for the person who influenced 30 years of cuts to state funding of welfare.
“If taxpayers are funding her funeral … we can at least get our money’s worth.”
Economic equality movement Occupy have said the funeral has been imposed upon the population. Occupy London spokesperson Richard Paton said:
“The Conservative Party and a group of tabloid editors have foisted this vulgar funeral on us and I think the vast majority of British people do not want it.
“Quite apart from the [EU] rebate, Margaret Thatcher wasted the North Sea oil windfall which came on tap in 1980, [and she created] a housing bubble which we still suffer from. Why should she have this funeral?”
A recent opinion poll suggests 61% of British adults believe it is wrong to protest at the funeral, and two-thirds think celebrating someone’s death is inappropriate. However, 54% said that they were not interested in watching the funeral, with just 28% planning to watch the event on television. The ComRes survey found that only 25% of people think the event should be funded by the public, with 60% against the idea.
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