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Unprecedented police operation for Pope's visit

By Alex Thomson

Updated on 09 September 2010

Police chiefs have said the Pope's visit to Britain will be met with an unprecedented police operation across the country. Channel 4 News Chief Correspondent Alex Thomson speaks to the people tasked with policing the Pope.

Alex Thompson meets the police tasked with managing the visit of Pope Benedict XVI

South Yorkshire Police Chief Constable Meredydd Hughes, who is co-ordinating the police operation, said no previous state visit had involved so many different sites around the country.

Pope Benedict XVI is due to arrive next week on a four-day visit that will see him attend events in London, Scotland and the West Midlands.

While the policing cost of the visit is not known, Mr Hughes said it was estimated at being in the region of £1m to £1.5m.

Today is the day. The first protests against the visit of Pope Benedict XVI have just wrapped up in south-west London.

It is purely by coincidence that the Papal Co-Ordinator for English and Welsh Chief Constables has also been briefing the media.

Papal Co-Ordinator - that is only the beginning of it. For when policing comes up hard against the Vatican, you really do get some unbelievable police-speak and I shall tell you more on that in a moment.

First off, what is there to know from the police point of view? Well all the usual stuff about 'don't come to ticket events unless you have one' - a Pilgrim Pass in fact.

If you have one you will know what I am talking about and if you do not then you do not care enough / are not pious enough / are just too late.

For the cops it is all very low key: "It's less of a deal for us than Notting Hill Carnival," said Bob from the Metropolitan Police - a comment likely to please neither the Vatican nor Notting Hill really and there are no concerns about the slowness of the popemobile close to Joe Public.

Bob again observes that the Queen trots past regularly in an open-topped carriage at three or four miles per hour (popemobile cruising speed FYI) and that, Bob reckons, is a far bigger security headache than the German One zooming by in his bullet-proofed reasonably-priced car for a Papal star.

And whilst we are on Clarkson territory, the popemobile can, in emergency, accelerate from 0 to 60 in eight heavenly seconds, but at that point Bob could contain himself no longer: "Mind you, I wouldn't try any cornering at that speed," he intoned, no doubt hankering after his distant days in uniform and traffic management.

So the cops are cool about it all, expecting no large demos and saying those that do come to protest peacefully will be able to get as near as is reaonable.

Trouble is, in the Met's view, that is likely to be somewhere just outside Plymouth when Benedict's on their patch.

Witness how the Met dealt with anti-Chinese protests some years ago when the dictators of Beijing were in town for jollies with the Queen etc.

Egg-throwing is right out: "That's a criminal offence - in fact several criminal offences and it is not peaceful," one of Bob's colleagues pointed out. 

I interject at this point to say our producer reports from west London that all of four people have turned up for today's protest.

But apparently there are carloads of cops on the scene - not the greatest of augurs. So what are the police worried about then?

Well not much it seems. The sudden addition of a three-mile popemobile run in Birmingham at the last minute was not exactly helpful but they all seem very relaxed about even that.

The only wrinkle seems to be F-TAC, yes F-TAC. Oh, you didn't know? Well this stands for the police's Fixated Threat Assessment Centre. And I swear I am not making up what follows in this blog.

Apparently the police make it their business to go out and speak to individuals out there who either think they are the Pope, or think that they should be the Pope.

It's not clear which group is deemed more of a threat though I feel the latter grouping sound more let down by life.

Anyhow, in another choice phrase this was described as "illness-based" policing.

So rather than section such people for the duration of the visit or otherwise restrict their liberty or infringe their mood in any way, the police along with other agencies go out and proffer them advice about why it might be best to keep a low profile during the Pope's stay, no matter what right they might have to be, in fact, The Holy One.

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