16 Apr 2013

Private service for Margaret Thatcher ahead of funeral

Family, friends and colleagues have paid their respects to the Iron Lady ahead of the former prime minister’s funeral.

Around 150 guests, including son Sir Mark Thatcher, daughter Carol and several members of Lady Thatcher’s government, filed past her coffin in the crypt chapel of St Mary Undercroft in Westminster.

On top of the coffin, draped in the union flag, was a large bouquet of white roses bearing a hand-written card inscribed “Beloved Mother – Always in our Hearts”.

The simple service of reception of the body, led by the Dean of Westminster the Very Reverend Dr John Hall, featured prayers, the psalm O Lord, Thou Hast Sought Me Out and Known Me, and a reading from the Gospel of St John.

‘Short but moving’

Work and Pensions Secretary and former Conservative party leader Iain Duncan Smith, who was one of the most senior political figures to attend the ceremony, said: “It was very moving, short but moving, very sombre. It’s different from tomorrow, because this event was personal.

“Lots of people were there for personal reasons – each of us summing up what you owe her.”

David Cameron’s official spokesman said the prime minister was not attending the service, adding he was “not aware” of any plans for him to pay his respects in the chapel later.

The spokesman said: “I think this afternoon’s ceremony is one that is, very understandably, very much family-led.

“The right thing has been for the prime minister to lead tributes to Lady Thatcher in the House last week and to attend tomorrow’s funeral ceremony.”

The ornately medieval chapel underneath St Stephen’s Hall in the Palace of Westminster was due to remain open on Tuesday night for MPs, peers and parliamentary staff to pay their respects to Lady Thatcher.

Her body will lay in rest overnight in the chapel while the Speaker’s Chaplain, the Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin will keep vigil until the morning.

The coffin will travel by hearse to the church of St Clement Danes in the Strand on Wednesday morning, before being borne on a horse-drawn gun carriage to St Paul’s Cathedral.

Security review

More than 4,000 police officers will be on duty as part of a major security operation, stepped up after Monday’s Boston Marathon bombings.

Hundreds of soldiers, sailors and air force personnel will line the route, and Big Ben’s bell will be silenced for the funeral.

The Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, the Very Rev Dr David Ison (removed medieval lingo) said it would not be “triumphant” but “relatively humble” service.