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"Operation Unicorn - The Logistical Challenges for Police Scotland" by Supt Jim Royan, Police Scotland: Tuesday 31 January 2023

Superintendent James Royan is a member of the Events, Emergency and Resilience Planning Division within Police Scotland which normally looks after occasions ranging from major sporting fixtures to protest marches. He is a Tactical commander within a number of specialisms and has drawn on this expertise to professionalise the provision of logistical support. Since 2017 he has been involved in the management of Brexit, CoVid, COP26, the 150th Open Golf and the forthcoming UCI cycling championship.

Each of these offered a variety of new challenges, and it was always important to learn from debriefings so that lessons might be applied to the next engagement. As the Scottish end of Operation London Bridge, Unicorn kicked into action because the Sovereign died in Scotland and fed into the continuation of activity as the focus moved down south.

For all logistical events, it makes sense to take as the starting-point Police Scotland's national decision-taking model which has at its heart a Code of Ethics providing for fairness, integrity, respect and compliance with the UN Convention on Human Rights. The Police must always gather intelligence from a variety of sources, which informs the necessary risk assessment, development of strategy that delivers the right outcome having regard to the appropriate legal powers.

There could be no advance notice of the death which because it occurred in Scotland triggered Operation Unicorn, and because the time of death was late in the day effectively the following one Friday 9 December became D Day and the Police took ground at Balmoral, the Palace of Holyroodhouse and St. Giles Cathedral. Their first concern had to be for the security of the members of the Royal Family arriving in Scotland, and never before had so many members gathered in one place.

With news reaching the Police by means of the Six O'clock News just as it went to everyone else, the contrast could not have been greater with COP26 where all timings had been known in advance, and here considerations had to sweep into action on managing such matters as the receipt of floral tributes, liaison with the media and the wellbeing of the public. Throughout It had to be remembered that ownership of proceedings lay with the Royal Family, and the Police's role was to assist the Lord Chamberlain in delivery according to their wishes.

Fortunately, on D Day +1 there were no ceremonial duties, since D+2 was to see the 186-mile road journey of the hearse bringing the coffin east and then south from Balmoral at a steady 55 mph by the A93, A90, M90 and Queensferry Crossing with Lieutenancy events at Church Square Ballater, the Duthie Park in Aberdeen and the Kingsway at Dundee followed by proclamations at The Mercat Cross and Castle Drawbridge in Edinburgh. Her Majesty remained a protected person until she was finally laid to rest, and a policing presence in support of the move helped provide the respect demanded by the nation.

D+3 began with the Ceremony of the Keys denoted the Sovereign's presence at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, from where the coffin then proceeded accompanied by His Majesty the King, senior members of the Royal Family and significant others to St Giles Cathedral for a service of reflection and thanksgiving. There was a Lying at Rest and Vigil overnight, and on D+4 the Princess Royal attended a prayer service before escorting the coffin to Edinburgh Airport, from where it was taken in a private flight for the second half of London Bridge during which 575 Police Scotland officers in 75 vehicles provided mutual aid to their English colleagues.

Operation Unicorn's command structure comprised eight Gold Commanders providing strategic direction, fourteen Silver Commanders for tactical support and thirty-three Bronze Commanders for operational aspects. Gold Commanders ensured liaison with the Lord Chamberlain and the Lord Lyon King of Arms, while Silver ones saw to practical provisions ranging from uniforms to firearms, and Bronze ones ensured that everything came together at the right place and time.

Support Services had to be put timeously in place, and legal teams handled Non-Disclosure Orders with suppliers, ensuring that there was no criminality. The normal procurement rules of competitive tendering could not apply in such a no-notice situation, but still it was necessary to vet individuals and deliver best value for money. Vehicle hire was challenging post-CoVid, and firearms protocols had to include issue of an incapacitant spray needed should there be any public order issues. The police estate has shrunk in recent years, but bespoke thresholds saw James's delegation increased eight-fold in order that he could quickly buy in the necessary resources. Ceremonial uniforms are no longer issued in Police Scotland, yet without any formal rehearsals they had to work with the Royal Company of Archers and the Military. Hotels were busy at the end of the tourist season, so it proved necessary to stand down three hundred trainees from courses at the Scottish Police College in order that officers could be accommodated there.

In order to maintain 58% of resources covering normal police business, it was vital that the 15,000 officers assigned to Unicorn should receive consistent provision for their welfare in accordance with Footprints of Responsibility, making clear who was to provide what and when. Deployment had to include transport, briefing, feeding (a hot meal and a sandwich pack), duty, standing down and return home. Local decision-taking encouraged sensible choices eg hiring of the P&J Arena rather than the Police's own accommodation in Aberdeen.

Twelve thousand bus journeys in two hundred vehicles were needed to mobilise 5919 specialist and 9347 general officers. Because Her Majesty passed away at Balmoral, Scotland set the pace in initiating delivery of the processes for national mourning, but Police Scotland's role continued from Unicorn into the later stages of London Bridge.

Report by John Yellowlees.


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