There might be red-coated soldiers from the elite Guards regiments standing sentry around it (not to mention large numbers of coppers with Big Guns), but Buckingham Palace isn’t quite as secure as you might think.
Queen Victoria suffered from the attentions of ‘The Boy Jones‘, who broke in on numerous occasions (stealing some of Victoria’s underwear at one point – insert “not amused” gag here). In 1981 three German backpackers, mistaking the palace gardens for Hyde Park, scrambled over the back wall of the gardens and camped out for the night.
But the most significant intrusion of recent times was that of Michael Fagan a 31 year old unemployed painter and decorator, who, in 1982, not only got into the main part of the Palace at least twice, but also managed to find the Queen’s bedroom and woke her up to ask for cigarettes.
On 7 June he climbed a drainpipe, entered the Palace through a skylight, and wandered about for a bit until he found a bottle of wine. After knocking this back he says he felt a bit tired, and he left. Someone working at the Palace had seen him climbing in, but when security arrived they found nothing and thought that the witness had been mistaken.
The more serious event was on 9 July. Fagan was seen outside the Palace at about 6:45am. Shortly after, he scaled the railings and got into a room through an open window in one of the Palace annexes. An alarm was triggered, but ignored. He then climbed a drainpipe and got into the main part of the Palace.
Remember that at this time Irish republican terrorism was a constant threat. Prince Philip’s uncle, Earl Mountbatten had been murdered just three years previously, and less than two weeks after this break-in, eleven soldiers were killed in bombings in Hyde Park and Regent’s Park.
Working his way along the corridors of the Palace, Fagan found the Queen’s bedroom, went in, opened the curtains and woke up HMQ. It was now about 7:15am; the policeman who guarded the corridor had gone off duty at 6:00, and the Queen’s footman was walking the dogs.
In a later interview Fagan says that the Queen ran from the room, but the official Scotland Yard report contradicts this; HMQ pressed an alarm, but as this only rang in the corridor, no one heard it. She then called the Palace switchboard to ask them to send the police to her room. Six minutes later, as no policeman had appeared, she called again. By the time the cops did arrive, the footman and a maid had got Fagan into a pantry with the promise of a glass of whisky.
At that time trespass was not a criminal offence, so Fagan was charged with burglary and theft of the bottle of wine that he’d drunk in the June intrusion. Remarkably, an Old Bailey jury acquitted him. He admitted another charge of stealing a car and was sent him to a secure mental health hospital in Liverpool, as a patient rather than a criminal. He was released three months later, and was in trouble with the law on several subsequent occasions.
The Home Secretary, Willie Whitelaw, was grilled by MPs about the incident; he offered his resignation to the Queen, but this was refused.