Mourners warned queues to see Queen’s coffin could last 30 hours

Wristbands, airport-style security and three miles of fencing to regulate mourners, in security operation that took decades to plan

A security operation decades in the planning began on Wednesday, to regulate a queue that could stretch 10 miles through London, as tens of thousands gather to file past the Queen’s coffin.

Colour- and number-coded wristbands were handed out to the line of mourners already stretching to Westminster Bridge and winding back to Southwark Park, where there are three miles of metal fences.

A live online map will show the route and estimated wait times, which the authorities are warning could be as long as 30 hours.Airport-style security screening will take place near Westminster Palace.

The coffin of Queen Elizabeth II is seen during a procession from Buckingham Palace to the Palace of Westminster to Westminster Hall
The coffin of Queen Elizabeth II is seen during a procession from Buckingham Palace to the Palace of Westminster to Westminster Hall Photograph: Vadim Ghirdă/AFP/Getty Images

But while a crowd safety expert involved in past planning of royal events said that the authorities had been preparing for decades, he expressed concern that members of the public might underestimate the scale of what lay ahead of them.

“We are talking about the challenge of having so many people from a very wide age group, perhaps with large sections tending towards the elderly, who are going to be on their feet for over a day and it’s the sort of endurance an athlete might find difficult, even before weather is taken into account,” said Prof Keith Still, a visiting professor of crowd science at the University of Suffolk and a specialist in crowd safety.


“My fear would be that they have grossly overestimated their ability to stand for that length of time”, he told the Guardian.

Troops are expected to back up more than 1,000 dedicated volunteers, stewards and Metropolitan police officers, who will be on hand to maintain safety of those waiting in line for hours. Updates about the start of the queue and expected length will be shown on large screens along the route, as well as on the social media feeds of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. Those with disabilities have been advised to join a separate queue at Tate Britain.

At any one time, those marshalling the mourners will include: 779 professional stewards, 100 civil service volunteer marshalls, 40 adult scouts, 30 members of first aid nursing Yeomanry, 10 Red Cross volunteers, 30 multi-faith pastors, six Samaritans volunteers and two British Sign Language interpreters. Extra police and troops will also be on hand but no numbers have been given.

About 500 portable toilets have been installed along the route with people handed colour- and number-coded wristbands to allow them to leave the queue to get food and drink then retake their spot.

When mourners make it to the front at Lambeth Bridge, they will be taken in batches to Victoria Tower Gardens to be checked by security, and told to turn all phones off and deposit large bags.

Measures taken by the police include the deployment of snipers and a warning by the Met against anyone using a drone without permission in an area covering much of central London.

Guidelines for those in the queue state: “Stewards and police officers will patrol the queue. Antisocial or inappropriate behaviour (including queue-jumping, excessive consumption of alcohol or drunken behaviour) will not be tolerated and you will be removed from the queue.”

Colour and number-coded wristbands were being handed out to the line of mourners
Colour- and number-coded wristbands were being handed out to the line of mourners Photograph: Matthew Chattle/REX/Shutterstock

Mourners will be able to file past the coffin until 6.30am on Monday morning, but Still suggested challenges may arise when the authorities have to decide to cap the queue.

“It’s going to be imperative to keep the crowd informed, such as how long it is going to take and the stewards need to keep communicating with the crowd even if they have nothing new to update.

“One of the huge challenges of large crowds, particularly with social media, is that they are so well connected and even susceptible to malicious information or disinformation, so it’s important to maintain calm. We’ve also seen some individual cases of protest, and while they may not happen again, it’s going to be important to keep in mind how a crowd could react to anything like that.”


Ben Quinn and Aubrey Allegretti

The GuardianTramp

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