Tuesday, 3 April 2012

A right royal suspect

THANKS to Prince Charles and a soggy day in the Lake District, I now know what it is like to be an Asian or Arab-looking young man in Great Britain today.
I was today corralled, questioned and, despite my best efforts, intimidated by three of Scotland Yard’s finest undercover special forces. No doubt they were armed.
I think I was guilty of being provocatively dressed, in that I was wearing a mackintosh and a ridiculous wide-brimmed Lake District rain hat, useful for keeping the wet stuff off my note-book as I went about my daily business gathering news.
Not being in the main-stream media these days, I no longer get gilded letters from Buckingham Palace or notifications from Press Association when there is a royal visit pending. Nor am I admitted to the enclave of local dignitaries who swarm to such occasions to savour the scent of glamour which still attaches to the Royal family.
But I do keep my ear to the ground and when I found out Prince Charles was visiting the Lake District, I decided to tag along, to watch the watchers and chat to those he had graced with his presence afterwards to see if he said anything of interest I could sell to the National or regional media.
His first port of call was Staveley Mill Yard, just outside Kendal, where he went to the local baker, furniture maker and Hawkshead brewery, the owner of which is a former BBC radio correspondent Alex Brodie.
So having got the lie of the land from Alex, I went down to the Mill Yard and watched the local school-children, villagers and business people wave their flags and put on the semblance of a Royal welcome.
I had a leisurely coffee in the excellent Wilf’s cafe, waiting for the razzmatazz to die down before moving in for my mop-up exercise.
It was proving to be pretty boring. Even Alex was struggling to find an angle for his press release.
So I headed back towards my car in the yard car park. It was then I became aware of being followed, then hailed by three burly men.
They looked like slightly seedy, past their best, rugby players, or bookmakers perhaps. I stopped, turned to face them and put on my most disarming smile.
For a fleeting second I wandered if I was going to be mugged. But instead one of them explained, in a Durham accent, that they were from the Royal Protections squad. Two of them produced Metropolitan police identity cards.
They explained that I had been behaving oddly, by which I assume they meant I hadn’t been standing in the rain waving a pathetic union flag at some strange man in a limousine.
They demanded to see my business card and credit card, wanted to know what I was doing and for whom. Could I prove I was who I said I was? They wanted to know my birth date.
They took my car registration number and the smallest of the three, a cockney, started taking copious notes. These turned out to be my description.
The third man, the red-haired silent one, whose idea of camouflage was to wear a rugby shirt with a badge saying Cumbria RU, got on his mobile phone to some central data-base to check me out.
I thought I was about to be frisked and told to bend over the bonnet of my car for a good seeing to, but disappointingly they seemed satisfied by my generally relaxed demeanour and explanations.
I told them I had been on the verge of leaving as there was no story for me to report until they turned up. It was a joke as the media would not really be interested in Royal protectors doing their jobs.
But the note-taker seemed bolstered by the idea. He puffed up his chest and said “you gonna write ‘baht us, then.” “Might do,” said I, not wanting to give ground in the intimidation games. He actually seemed pleased.
There are two ways of looking at this episode. You can see it as an example of the terrorism-obsessed forces of law and order picking on a law-abiding citizen with a view to intimidating him. Or you can relax easier in your bed knowing that the Royal family is being well protected.
They were polite. Their guns were hidden. I came to no harm.
I suspect other innocent people get a far less civilised inquisition, even in this country, particularly if they are from a group, some members of which are seen to be a threat.
But despite my natural confidence and experience of such matters, there will be a small part of me wondering if I will get a knock on the door in the next couple of days.