Olympic torch: Police want flame 'centre stage'

Torch relay security rehearsal
Image caption Police officers have practised protecting the torch and its bearer

The nation's 8,000 torchbearers are primed for their big moment carrying the 2012 torch across the UK, but behind the scenes 70 unarmed officers from London's Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) are preparing for a busy 10 weeks.

After 18 months of police training, up to 52 officers from the MPS Torch Security Team (TST) will accompany the torchbearer carrying the flame, protecting their "integrity, safety and security".

A key part of the policing plan is ensuring "the torch and the torchbearer take centre stage" during the relay.

The selection process for the TST took eight months, with 664 officers applying to be part of the torch relay convoy.

Officers will travel with the flame from the moment it leaves Land's End on 19 May until it arrives at the Olympic Stadium on 27 July for the opening ceremony. The same team will travel with the Paralympic flame.

A minimum of three officers will run alongside the torch and its bearer, forming a "protective bubble" around them.

Officers on motorcycles will ride ahead of the relay to check for changing circumstances on the route while pedal cyclists will liaise with the next bearer about to receive the flame.

An MPS spokeswoman said members of the TST will take it in turns to look after the Olympic flame overnight.

Out of its 70 officers, the MPS has five core protection teams totalling 36 officers, with others working as back-up guards and planning staff, "communicating with the public, torchbearers and spectators while maintaining security".

The exact number of officers and the tactics they will use will be determined by a tactical commander based in a command vehicle in the convoy.

Assistant Commissioner Chris Allison , the National Olympic Security Co-ordinator, said the planning by Olympic organisers Locog had been "meticulous".

He said the aim at the heart of the event was to give support to the "8,000 inspirational people who will have the chance of a lifetime to carry the Olympic flame".

"This is a truly unique event and we, the police service, have also spent months planning," he added.

He described the policing structure as supporting the movement of the torch, rather than respecting traditional police force boundaries. Local forces will provide the wider policing operation.

The MPS has taken responsibility for the TST as traditionally the host city's police force provides torch security.

During the torch relay for the 2008 Beijing Games 37 arrests were made after clashes between pro-Tibet protesters and police as the Olympic torch made its way through London.

Protests over China's human rights record began soon after the relay began at Wembley, prompting an increasing police presence through the city, and one protester tried to snatch the torch from former Blue Peter host Konnie Huq.

The Beijing torch was taken on an ambitious journey, travelling 136,800 km (85,000 miles) around the world.

It then went on a three-month relay around China before arriving in Beijing for the opening ceremony.

Demonstrators were also arrested in San Francisco during the relay after tying "Free Tibet" banners to the cables of the Golden Gate Bridge, while there were "scuffles" between pro and anti-China demonstrators in Japan and South Korea.

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