Mercy Shawn Mendes
19 May 2011, 19:53
A team of Scotland Yard officers will launch a round-the-clock guard of the Olympic flame in the final 70-day countdown to the London 2012 Games.
Superintendent Claire Johnston, in charge of the Metropolitan Police's 49-strong torch security team, said: "My team is responsible from the moment it lands until the cauldron is lit."
Assistant Commissioner Chris Allison, the national Olympic security co-ordinator, said: "It will have a 24-hour guard. Security will be 24-7."
A handpicked team of 28 officers, working in a minimum group of two, will protect the torch and its 8,000 torchbearers during the 2012 torch relay.
They will run, cycle or walk alongside the Olympic flame as the torchbearers complete their 300m slot on the 8,000-mile relay.
Designs for the uniform they will wear are still on the drawing board but it will be athletic gear including a unique security team number and identify them as Metropolitan Police.
The unarmed security team, of 28 runners and another eight reserves, were whittled down from 664 applications. Of the runners, 40% are women.
Detectives and neighbourhood police are among the different ranks and they have each been with the Met for between two and 33 years.
The entire protection team, including commanders and planners, is 49-strong and will include a rehab therapist to help take care of team injuries or aches and pains.
They have had complete fitness testing to see if they can cope with being on their feet for up 12 hours and the stop-start nature of running the relay legs at different paces.
They have also been drilled on advanced officer training skills such as open hand protection, increased observation plus anticipation and communication since they will not be carrying protective equipment.
Leadership skills were also part of the qualification criteria.
A network of intelligence officers based across the country will help provide the information that Ms Johnston will use for the changing daily plan for the relay. Runners will include some nominated members of the public and possibly some celebrities.
The rise of republican terrorism are among the risks which will shape the security operation as the relay makes its way from Land's End, across Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and possibly in to Dublin, according to Mr Allison.
He does not think the same political demonstrations, protesting against China's human rights abuses, which marred the 2008 Beijing torch relay, will hit London 2012.
He said: "We would love to think that two officers would be enough - wouldn't that be fantastic - but we have to plan on the basis that it might not be.
"The operation will depend on where we are and who we are protecting and that has to have the ability to flex on a daily basis.
"I sincerely hope that the only thing you notice are the young people and the flame.
"We hope that people recognise that these are inspirational young people who are nominated.
"I hope they would think again about disrupting this because all they would be doing is ruining their once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of running with the torch."
London 2012 are organising special chaperones for the young runners as half of the torchbearers will be aged 12-24 years.