Here’s How The Queen Would Stay Safe If An Intruder Got Into Buckingham Palace

Believe it or not, but the British royal family’s London estate has had its fair share of unwanted trespassers over the years. In fact, people have been breaking into Buckingham Palace for centuries. And while no real harm has come to a royal as a result, these incidents – along with other perceived threats – have ramped up the need for modern security measures, all designed to keep Queen Elizabeth II safe.

Buckingham Palace’s most widely-known security force is the Queen’s Guard. The soldiers are instantly recognizable for their red uniforms and bearskin hats, which together are officially called their “full dress.” Originally, though, this outfit was designed to give the guards a tactical advantage over their enemies. Wearing red meant that lookouts would find it more difficult to gauge the size of the army, and their caps helped to prevent attackers from landing precise blows to their heads.

To protect the monarch, the Queen’s Guard works alongside London’s Metropolitan Police. While many tourists may think they’re merely there to uphold tradition and to add to Elizabeth II’s regal image, the guards are actually skilled army soldiers. But events such as the Changing of the Guard do still fall under their list of duties.

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Yes, as some of you may know, the Changing of the Guard happens when the soldiers hand over their posts to the new guard. The 45-minute ceremony involves a musical march and is free to watch for visitors and tourists. Another well-known event at which the soldiers have to perform is the Trooping the Color, which is a military parade held every June to honor the Queen’s official birthday.

The Queen splits her time between six royal estates in the UK. – but there’s an easy way to tell whether she’s staying at Buckingham Palace. Indeed, when she’s there you’ll be able to count four guards in the building’s forecourt instead of two, which is how many are there when she’s elsewhere. And the soldiers of the Queen’s Guard can be found outside other royal buildings in and around London, too. These include Windsor Castle, Clarence House, St. James’s Palace and the Tower of London.

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Traditionally, the guards would have been positioned publically, but in 2014 those at St James’s Palace and Clarence House were brought inside to stand behind the fences. And according to the royal family news website, Royal Central, the decision was made in response to an elevated risk of terror attacks. As for Buckingham Palace, though, it was back in the 1960s when the soldiers were brought inside the mansion’s boundary. This change occurred after one particularly irked guard assaulted a member of the public.

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Despite the intimidating presence of the Queen’s Guard, then, Buckingham Palace and the other royal residences haven’t been immune to intruders over the decades. Perhaps the most famous trespasser at the Queen’s primary residence is Michael Fagan, a jobless home decorator who broke in twice in 1982. On both occasions, he managed to ascend the building’s walls and sneak in through an unsecured window.

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During Fagan’s first break-in, the then-33-year-old managed to escape the palace without being caught. But when he returned a few weeks later, his wanderings brought him directly to the Queen’s chamber. The intruder apparently awoke the sleeping monarch, before launching into a diatribe about his family issues while the Queen attempted to signal for help.

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It seems nobody responded to the Queen’s panic button, but she managed to alert a footman after Fagan requested a cigarette. According to the intruder, the palace employee then offered him a glass of whisky while they waited for the police to show up. Fagan was ultimately incarcerated in a mental health institution – but not before the government’s Home Secretary at the time, Willie Whitelaw, offered to resign over the scandalous security breach.

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But Fagan wasn’t the first to find his way into the royal residences. Indeed, Queen Victoria – the inaugural monarch to permanently move into Buckingham Palace – suffered from a repeat offender. In the pages of his book Queen Victoria & the Stalker, Dr. Jan Bondeson regales how teenager Edward Jones broke into the palace on multiple occasions.

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Bondeson told the BBC in 2011 that Jones entered the premises on at least four occasions, but may actually have been there many more times. “He gained access to the palace through unlocked doors or unshuttered windows on the ground floors – there was no royal security in those days,” he said. Guards twice found Jones perched on the throne, and he was even once seen stealing the Queen’s lingerie.

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Nevertheless, because Jones wasn’t committing a specific crime, prosecutors had difficulty locking him up. So when his first prison sentence of three months failed to deter the enterprising stalker, the government decided to capture him and incarcerate him in a floating jail. Six years later, though, Jones returned to England and started to commit burglary. This ultimately led to his deportation to Australia – and his reputation as the Queen’s stalker followed him all the way down under.

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Alongside these historic examples, then, there have been plenty of other recent attempts to break into Buckingham Palace, too. In September 2013, for example, a trespasser entered the mansion after climbing over the railing. Understandably, this prompted an investigation into the building’s security measures. But if they hastened to make improvements, it was arguably to no avail, as in 2016 Denis Hennessy – who’d previously been in jail for murder – leaped over the wall surrounding the grounds.

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After strolling around Buckingham Palace’s gardens for approximately ten minutes, Hennessy was caught by armed guards – while repeatedly asking, “Is ma’am in?” The Queen’s protective staff were apparently made aware of his presence when his movements triggered an alarm. And the felon, who was reportedly on probation for killing a homeless man in 1992, was then incarcerated for 16 weeks on charges of criminal damage and trespassing.

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More recently, a 22-year-old male intruder managed to get within feet of the Queen after also making his way over Buckingham Palace’s fence. Yes, while the monarch was asleep inside, the trespasser started trying to cross the threshold by pounding on the doors. After police confirmed that the man wasn’t carrying any sort of weapon, he was swiftly arrested. But once again, the event unsurprisingly stoked fears surrounding the palace’s security.

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It seems, however, that intruders aren’t just interested in the Queen’s London residence. Windsor Castle has also had a handful of trespassers who’ve attempted to get inside. For instance, in 2003 a comedy actor, who seemingly wanted to spread the word about his show, managed to encroach on Prince William’s 21st birthday celebrations. According to the BBC, Aaron Barschak was in character as a “comedy terrorist” when he slipped through the event’s security.

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And just under a year later, an intruder was apprehended at the castle after apparently pretending to be a police officer. Even though the authorities made it clear that the offender didn’t pose a threat to security, Buckingham Palace had only just elected a new person to oversee the safety of royal estates and the people who reside in them. Before this, you see, the government had suggested that measures weren’t stringent enough to protect against the potential threat of terrorism.

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Furthermore, in 2011 an inebriated truck driver landed just feet away from the Queen’s residence at Windsor Castle. 32-year-old Robert Pennefather managed to clamber over the Cambridge Gate, triggering an alarm in the process. Thankfully, the guards swiftly apprehended the intruder, who had to pay around $1,200 as a punishment and was forbidden from entering British pubs for 12 months.

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It’s no surprise, then, that the security of royal residences is taken extremely seriously. Alongside the Queen’s Guard, Buckingham Palace features a number of static protective measures. After the terror attack on Westminster Bridge in 2017, for instance, large yellow structures suddenly appeared on the pavements surrounding the palace.

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On March 22, 2017, five people lost their lives when driver Khalid Masood intentionally veered off the Bridge’s road and onto the sidewalk. And when the police managed to get to him, the aggressor murdered an officer with the knife he’d been carrying before being fatally wounded himself. The yellow barriers were subsequently erected in the hope that it would stop the same thing from taking place outside the palace.

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And the incident also prompted a security review at Windsor Castle. Indeed, it wasn’t long before roadblocks sprung up around that historic building, too. A spokesperson for the police told Reuters in 2017 that even though there was no perceived threat to Windsor, the precautions were “proportionate and necessary.”

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What’s more, a few months earlier, police also stepped up security for the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace by increasing the number of no-drive zones in the area. The move came after Anis Amri killed 12 people by driving a truck into a busy Christmas market in Berlin. And while the enhancements had already been on the cards, it seems the incident made them even more pressing.

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The precautions extend to within the palace’s walls, too. Yes, tourists visiting Buckingham Palace can expect to have to go through strict screenings before being allowed to enter. The process is quite similar to what you’d find at the airport, actually, as metal items need to be placed in a tray before you walk through the scanner. But some items, such as large luggage and strollers, need to be left with reception.

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Similar security measures can be found at Windsor Castle, where visitors may have to wait in a long line as a result. Even so, the queen is currently in the process of putting extra precautions in place. In June 2020, you see, the Crown Estate applied for planning permission to relocate the Royal Trusts’s merchandise headquarters, which has been deemed to be too close to Windsor Castle.

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But despite the stir caused by intruders over the years, one of the biggest increases in security came in response to the New York terror attacks on September 11, 2001. Indeed, the Queen’s guard and stringent screening just wouldn’t be enough to protect the monarch if a similarly terrifying incident took place.

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Yes, should the worst happen, the Queen can now take refuge in her specially-built panic rooms. The concept has, in fact, become increasingly popular in recent years, particularly in England’s capital, where wealthy celebrities and bankers have had them custom-made. Tucked away on the other side of normal-looking walls or bookshelves, these rooms are typically not spoken about by homeowners – even to their closest friends.

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The Queen’s panic rooms were constructed within both Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle back in 2003, and the decision was apparently driven by worries about a potential assault by the terror group Al-Qaeda. You see, after the 9/11 attacks, a security review found that the existing facilities just weren’t up to scratch for protecting the Head of State.

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That’s perhaps no surprise, though, given that those sections of the palace were modest in size, cramped and almost completely bare of furnishings. Take the Queen Mother’s safe room, for instance, which measured just six feet square and included a solitary chair and table. And while the hideouts in the other royal estates may have been larger than this, they still weren’t equipped for stays lasting more than 24 hours.

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Seemingly thinking that it’s better to be safe than sorry, the Queen commissioned these new panic rooms to be constructed at a cost to the British taxpayer. Prince Charles also got one installed at his home, Clarence House, which is perhaps to be expected given his place in the royal lineage.

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You may well be wondering, then, what makes these new panic rooms so much better than those that were there before? Well, for starters they’re said to be surrounded by fire-retardant and bullet-resistant walls made from a mix of both steel and carbon fiber. That level of fortification offers serious protection for the royals, and even if a small aircraft were to crash into the building, the rooms would supposedly remain intact. This is particularly important at Windsor Castle, as it sits directly in the flight path for Heathrow Airport.

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Indeed, fear over the castle’s location also came as a result of the September airplane hijackings. At the time, you see, intelligence services had reason to believe that this was Al-Qaeda’s preferred way to commit a terror attack. So, this is why Queen Elizabeth’s panic rooms were built to withstand not only a mortar attack – should one ever occur – but also the impact from a small plane.

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But that’s not all. Given the technological advancements, specialists believe that if an attack were to occur today, the royals would have very little time to get to safety. The facilities, therefore, needed to be easily accessible and fitted with devices for communicating with the outside world. Yes, video screens and a full command center would allow members of the royal family to see exactly what was going on beyond the palace walls.

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Not much is known about the Queen’s panic rooms, of course, but industry experts have speculated over what they might contain. Tom Gaffney, the founder of Gaffco Ballistics, is one such individual. And given that his company supplies rooms like this to organizations all over the world, he has a good idea of what you might expect to find inside.

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In 2003 Gaffney told British newspaper The Sunday Times that the rooms are likely equipped with a whole host of modern safety measures. And while many of these are quite general, some of them are designed to provide shelter from very specific attacks. According to the industry expert, then, it’s likely that the rooms have a proprietary air supply and filter system to stop any poisonous gasses from making it inside.

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Gaffney also theorized that the rooms likely have their own power source: a huge battery system, akin to those that are used on submarines, which would provide both heat and light. Such a device would likely have a back-up generator, too – and this would probably be stored in a secret, exterior location. What’s more, to make sure the royals wouldn’t go hungry, there’s probably a food store containing meals lasting up to two weeks.

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All of these facilities probably wouldn’t have come cheap, though. Indeed, Gaffney speculated to The Sunday Times that the cost could easily have spiraled into seven figures. He said, “Together with the filtration system, the command and control system and the other accessories, we could be looking at £1 million.” And that works out at around a whopping $1.26 million.

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All of these features make the Queen’s panic rooms some of the most resilient in the world. After all, they’re normally built to withstand basic firearms or brute force – but those in the royal residences could conceivably see off an anti-tank missile. And it’s for that reason that they’re probably very well-hidden in the hearts of these grand buildings.

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If you’re wondering who would be joining the Queen inside these panic rooms, then you’d be right in thinking that she’d probably choose to have her beloved pooches at her side. But this isn’t just because the Monarch is devoted to her pets. Indeed, as Gaffney pointed out, “If you leave them outside they’ll sniff you out and their barking would give her away.”

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A panic room is only useful if it’s actually used, however – and for those in charge of security for the royals, this is apparently a significant worry. An anonymous source told The Sunday Times, “[Prince] Philip doesn’t like security, full stop. If you told him he had to get into a safe room, he’d probably tell you to foxtrot oscar.”

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It seems the Queen, on the other hand, has made use of her panic room at least once since its installation. Yes, following the Westminster Bridge terror attack in 2017, she was rushed to the secret section of the palace as a safety precaution. And if an intruder like Michael Fagan ever managed to make their way into the stately home again, then at least the Monarch will have somewhere to hide away.

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