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Lords Tour

by msecadm4921

Lord’s is the home of cricket, one of England’s Test match grounds.

It’s more, though: it’s an all-year London NW8 enterprise with a museum and corporate hospitality for hire. Key security figures at the iconic venue take Mark Rowe on a tour – it’s a story of search dogs, control rooms, crowd control and Derek Pringle.

Alan Baxter, head of security at Lord’s, pushes open a door with a sign that says ‘no admittance’ in capital letters. What’s beyond is for players and officials only, because through the door is the home dressing room, on the first floor of the pavilion. It’s a sunny September Friday, the day before the C & G – Cheltenham & Gloucester – one-day cricket final, one of the main events on the English cricket calendar and one of the big days of the year at Lord’s. The dressing room is empty – there are seats around the walls, a hefty table in the middle. The balcony. The famous boards that record the five-wicket returns and centuries in Tests at Lord’s. To tell the truth, this is not that exceptional a peep behind the scenes – I saw it before on a paid-for guided tour ten years ago. That was in October, a sign that the ground is not open for business merely in the summer cricket season.

We take the route that the players would take to the field – their cricket boots clattering on the floor – downstairs, past paintings of great men on the walls. Richard Hester, of Richard Hester Associates, the security consultants for Lord’s, says: "This is the Long Room. Hallowed ground." In this room facing the playing field, two men are putting out high wooden chairs. At either end of this (needless to say) long room, are small and discreet CCTV cameras. Others around the ground – covering the Grace Gates for example, or the outside of the stadium – are dome cameras. In other words, while Lord’s is an institution, it adapts to the times, security management included.

Next stop, the MCC museum. Up stairs, in a corner, behind a glass cabinet, is a small dark urn – the Ashes. Alan Baxter says: "That’s what it’s all about," meaning the England-Australia Test matches twice every four years, won back in epic manner in 2005 by England. (Since Professional Security visited, the MCC – has reported that the urn, ‘perhaps the world’s most famous sporting artefact’, the website lords.org says – will go on display in Australia when England defend the Ashes in the winter of 2006-7. Details of venue will follow when ‘conservation, security and insurance issues have been considered’ in detail. In other words, the tiny 120-year-old urn is priceless and yet could easily be hidden in your fist – protection against theft does not come more difficult than that.)

The museum, something of an oasis, is another sign that the venue is about more than sporting events between April and September. On display on two floors are paintings, caps and other cricket memorabilia, some of it valuable (the ball that Australian Shane Warne took his 600th Test wicket with is on loan), some (like the Ashes urn) beyond valuation.

Outside the museum, Alan Baxter, who is carrying a Motorola radio in his left hand, points and says: "This is what we call the number six gate." With the Grace Gates and North Gates (the East Gate is shut), number six is one of three vehicle access points. Alan says: "It’s for players and umpires to park; and for VIPs. We have had the Queen, Tony Blair; recently we had the Australian Prime Minister for four days. Once the other gates are finished for vehicles" – that is, on the morning of a set-piece event like a Test, or a one-day final, the Grace and North gates do not take any more vehicles – "we bring the dog handlers around here and they search the vehicles as the members and VIPs arrive."

This is the pre-event day, the Friday before the big Saturday game, and the search dogs are at work, provided by GIS. So too are no end of contractors, handling everything required for an event watched by tens of thousands of people – from food and drink to the very turnstiles they will pass through; even potted plants. Behind the Warner Stand, a man pushes a rail of Lord’s green blazers. There is a quiet buzz of activity everywhere.

All those coming through the gates have to be searched, including Professional Security, which came on foot. A man and a woman pair of stewards on duty behind a wooden table at the Grace Gates – a small security lodge is on the other side of the Gates – are using metal-detection wands. One of the pair asks if I have any metal and I empty my pockets – I put so many items on the table, the woman smiles, before she slowly waves the wand over my body and (outstretched) arms.

Before entering the site, I watched the black labrador dog and handler search a delivery vehicle (spaniels are also used, to sniff for explosives). The labrador, kept on quite a tight leash, had a busy yet erect posture, suggesting great concentration as it went around the vehicle, sniffing regularly. Its job done, dog and handler retired to a nearby chair. Dogs need breathers, the same as humans.

Next stop is the control room, which has a good view of the playing arena and seating. Alan Baxter describes how on a match day police including the ‘silver commander’ are in the room; so are St John Ambulance and LAS (London Ambulance Service) people; and MCC staff. Alan as head of security will be there; and the match-day safety officer. The control room has the usual things you find in any control room: maps of the site; telephones; and CCTV monitors at desks. Four quad monitors mounted on the ceiling each show views of key points, such as the cash room. Other monitors show car parking; and the Grace Gates. Lord’s has a 138-camera CCTV system; with a Bewator digital recording system. Installer: London-based Parker Security. One black and white camera is covering the entrance; there is a computer running people-counting software that registers each person that crosses the line in, and each spectator that has a pass to go out, temporarily. That way the control room knows how many people are in the ground at any time.

To explain the gold, silver and bronze chain of police commanders (as used at other events): the chief superintendent is gold, who decides before the day what is going to happen; that officer sends a silver commander to the actual event, a chief inspector, to make sure things to go plan; and the bronze commander, an inspector, is on the ground to make sure things at ground level go as planned. Alan adds: "We have a Phoenix team which is our fire team, made up of one senior and two fire officers – three for the Australia match [the July Test] – and they basically go round and answer any alarms that go off, and can be there in 60 seconds." That can be a smoke alarm, or a fire alarm, perhaps maliciously broken. Similarly, the LAS and St John Ambulance can get a call from a steward – perhaps someone has fallen over – and a first-aider can be on the scene in one or two minutes. Alan adds: "We had a chap collapse having come upstairs; the steward saw him go down; and within 30 seconds they [first-aiders] were giving him heart massage." The man’s son thanked Alan later that day for saving his father’s life; but it wasn’t Alan that did it, he adds, but the system in place.

Just as no man is an island, nor can a big venue in London only attend to its own security. Alan attends meetings under the London First umbrella with police, hotels, theatres, and similar venues such as Highbury (Arsenal Football Club) and Twickenham (rugby union). Alan adds that Lord’s is hosting archery at the 2012 Olympics: "It’s quite a thing, getting the archery here; being part of 2012."

Next stop: Coronation Gardens. Apart from the ground having to be secured all year,it’s open much longer hours that the hours of play. At 9am on Test match days and others the MCC members may make for their favourite seat inside the ground, first depositing their cool-box for a picnic on the grass between number six gate and the Warner Stand. There they will eat their lunch. But those boxes being unattended all day, as police warned, are risks, potentially suspect packages. Hence the boxes left on the greenery are given a second search besides the one at the gate; and a yellow ribbon, to denote they are secured; and if a member pops from his seat to his box for something, the box has to be searched again to keep its ribbon.

The requirement for a security search in case of explosives, so that event managers can be confident that they are proof against a call-box phone call warning of a bomb – what you could call the 30p terrorist – is plain throughout this tour of the ground. Before taking a lift to the corporate boxes – we are in the Grand Stand by now – we pass someone wheeling laundry. In the MCC president’s double box, people are readying the crockery and cutlery. Further on is the Nursery Ground, a smaller affair than the main ground but with a pavilion that can take 900 for dinners and dances nonetheless. It has hosted corporate events for Jaguar; and London Fashion Week. Players can take net practice here; the MCC plays games against the police, or Army. In this part of the ground is the indoor cricket school with bowling machines; again, busy all year round, and into the evening.

Taking the lift to the £6.5m NatWest media centre, before the door opens Alan warns that it’s very blue. He is right. Swimmingly, at first almost unnervingly blue. There’s a refreshments room then the six long tables in three lines for the print journalists. On my left, alone in the room is Derk Pringle, Essex and England 1980s all-rounder and now cricket writer for The Independent. He taps quietly on his laptop. The view of the playing arena is a high one. Alan says: "You can really see the slope," that is, the field slopes slightly. There are, very discreelty, dome cameras set in the media centre walls; there are lockers for journalists to leave their valuables; and upstairs are rooms facing the arena for radio and TV commentators.

John Franklin-Webb of GIS recalls that the media people were pleased to see the dogs, that searched the centre each day of the Ashes Test. On day three, the handler did a ‘find’. John explains: "We give the dog sweeteners during the course of their working day because if the dog isn’t getting any finds, it won’t be motivated to carry on working; and that is at the discretion of the handler. Because you can usually pick up when a dog is going off the boil. It [the find that keeps the dog in the hunt] must be done randomly, it mustn’t be done at the beginning or the end of the deployment, because the dogs would go into a routine, and expect it. Random reward is absolutely crucial." Returning to the July test match, he adds: "So the media could actually see the dog’s capability – we put some Semtex over there [he points in the media centre]. Not only is it a reassurance, having a dog around, it’s very important to see the dog can actually do the job." To be exact, the training aid, the find, isn’t necessarily a piece of explosive, but an object – a glove, a piece of cloth, stored next to a piece of explosive for some time, "so the scent is absorbed into that, but inert and not dangerous, but contains the target scent". As with the need to vary when the dog gets a sweetener on its shift, so the object must be changed – never always paper, or a rubber glove. As John Franklin-Webb puts it: "Because otherwise if you are constantly putting a find out with rubber gloves, you have a rubber glove-detection dog."

Broadcaster Channel 4 in the summer made much of Test grounds welcoming spectators wearing fancy dress. Not Lord’s, Alan says; nor banners nor flags. He adds: "We say that anybody who comes to watch the cricket at Lord’s comes to watch the cricket; they don’t want someone in front with a wig." It is true to say that Lord’s is one of those English institutions – like the Savoy say – that does its business, the same as any other sports venue, or hotel, or whatever, but with its standards. Derek Pringle for instance – who as Professional Security left the media centre was talking on his mobile phone, still in front of his laptop – was wearing an open-necked stripey shirt. On match days, though, it has to be jacket and tie, or you do not get into the media centre.

Outside again, ‘PA check, PA check’ comes out over the public address speakers. Parked beyond the Nursery Ground in a corner of the site are the TV outside broadcast lorries. Depending on the broadcaster’s schedules, the vehicles may be parked overnight, or over two nights, before the day of the live broadcast. It is important, then, to have these vehicles searched, so that if the proverbial 30p terrorist phones a threat, the match-day commanders can be happy that there are not grounds for evacuation.

It was lunchtime by now. Contractors were still coming and going. At least one of the counties contesting the C&G final was expected at the ground, for practice. By 3pm, 4pm, the preparation for the big day would be about done. To sum up, then, Lord’s is about more than cricket; it’s an all-day, all year venue, and it’s that way to pay its way, as a corporate venue, a path that football stadia are taking too. Visitors are varied. Some are well-known, from members of the England and Wales Cricket Board, to Derek Pringle. Others – the Royal Mail – are common and anonymous. Thousands of MCC members may wish to enter, at peak times. A lot of customers, in other words, who have to be treated promptly and with courtesy, and yet as such a landmark site, Lord’s has to guard against extreme threats such as bombs. Once, in passing, Alan Baxter mentioned that police sought Lord’s CCTV footage after July 7 in case the Tube and bus bombers had been at the ground.

The special days – when royalty or high-profile MCC members attend – are another story to the day before the spectacle. Only later, as a squirrel danced around me and stood on his hind legs, as I sat on a bench in nearby Regents Park, did it occur to me that I forgot to ask for Derek Pringle’s autograph.

-=-=-=-==-

GIS in 2005 and last year provided explosives search dogs to Lord’s. High-profile visitors through the gates for the Ashes Test included former Prime Minister Sir John Major, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair, and Australian PM John Howard. As John Franklin-Webb, director of Oxfordshire-based GIS, recalls, Sir John Major was fine about the search; such people know all about the risks and the reasons for such precautions.

But what of the stereotypical MCC member, who may respond to a request to stop for a search by saying something on the lines of ‘don’t you know who I am?!’ John replies that while there was some grunts and groans from visitors, security staff were able to do their job. Crucial to doing that job is proper customer care: polite words (‘good morning, sir’) and prompt action. Last year, John adds, 300-plus members of the MCC wrote to compliment the club on the security measures, including the search dogs.

John Howard was meeting PM Tony Blair in London on Thursday, July 21 when news of the Tube and bus bomb attempts came. John Franklin-Webb reports that GIS spoke with the head of Mr Howard’s close protection team; stopping that VIP’s cavalcade would have been a risk in itself. Rather than delay Mr Howard at the entrance to Lord’s – his vehicles having been checked before setting off for the cricket – GIS checked the vehicles once Mr Howard and his entourage had got out. John added that the GIS dogs and handlers cleared the media centre for a visit by Mr Howard. Other areas were checked such as litter bins; the main stand; the underground car park; and so on. While not wanting to give operational details away, he says that the search begins days before, checking people and vehicles from the proverbial retired colonel to a cleaning contractor to someone delivering flowers. John adds: "We will them look at certain target areas, and work on a search and seal basis, bearing in mind that our role is very much defensive searching." Besides the NatWest media centre, there is the ‘media village’ of TV and other vehicles, humming in the run-up to a five-day Test match. The sniffer dogs are there to identify suspicious people or packages; and to reassure the public; they are a second line of defence, behind the stewards, provided by REACT.

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