Royal protection unit faces exodus of experienced officers

File image of a police officer at the King's Coronation last year
File image of a police officer at the King's Coronation last year

The Scotland Yard unit that looks after the Royal family is facing an exodus of some of its most experienced armed protection officers, The Telegraph can reveal.

More than 60 members of the Royalty and Specialist Protection (RaSP) team, which safeguards the King and other senior royal figures, as well as top government ministers, will leave the Metropolitan Police in June next year when it scraps a popular pension initiative.

Officers will no longer be able to benefit from the Enhanced Returns Scheme (ERS), which allows those who are eligible to retire to stay on in their role while also claiming their police pension.

The mass exodus of experienced officers will create a headache for the Met as it urgently seeks to fill the vacancies for the highly specialised roles.

The RaSP unit has some of the Met’s most experienced and skilled firearms officers, who are experts in close protection and provide round-the-clock security for the Royal family, the Prime Minister and his cabinet, and visiting VIPs.

Many of its members have been with the unit for years and have developed good working relationships with the people they protect.

However, the scrapping of the return scheme next year will see dozens leave the force, with many expected to take up lucrative private security contracts instead.

The retention package, introduced two years ago, was intended to plug a skills gap in the Met, allowing some of its most experienced officers to stay on after they had reached retirement age.

Police protecting the King in Sandringham, Norfolk, earlier this year
Police protecting the King in Sandringham, Norfolk, earlier this year - Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images Europe

Officers up to the rank of inspector are able to remain in their existing roles, draw their police pension and also continue to receive their salary.

With Met officers able to retire after serving 30 years, many of those who qualified were still only in their early 50s.

The scheme has proved particularly popular with officers working in the counter terror command and RaSP.

However, with the Met facing mounting budgetary pressures, the decision has been taken to radically alter the terms from next June.

Officers who want to carry on working for the Met will continue receiving a salary, but will have their pension payments frozen.

They have also been told they will no longer be able to carry on working in their existing roles and will have to return to front-line policing, which is currently massively understaffed and has a dearth of experienced talent.

Buckingham Palace in London
Buckingham Palace is among the royal sites where police help provide security - Brandon Bell/Getty Images Europe

The Telegraph understands that at least 60 out of more than 400 RaSP officers are currently on the retention scheme, but none have applied to stay on under the new terms.

One source told The Telegraph: “The retention scheme was really popular. It was dubbed ‘30 plus plus’ because it meant after you had done your 30-years service, you could claim your pension but carry on in your job and get your salary.

“It was really good for the Met also though because you held on to all the most experienced and skilled officers.

“But now they are going back to the old system of ‘30 plus’ which means you can stay on but your pension will be frozen.

“However, instead of being allowed to remain in your specialised role, you will have to go back to front-line policing.

“Many of these officers in RaSP are highly experienced close protection specialists who have looked after senior royals and prime ministers. With that sort of stuff on your CV you are highly sought after in the private sector.

“These guys can earn a lot more money going to work for some high net worth individual or celebrity and that’s what a lot of them will go and do next June. The problem the Met will have is where do you find the people to replace them?”

An armed police officer keeps watch on the King's Coronation last year
An armed police officer keeps watch on the King's Coronation last year - Pool/Getty Images Europe

A Met spokesman said: “The Met’s Enhanced Return scheme (ERS) was opened for a limited time - until June 2025 - in 2022. All colleagues who joined the scheme will remain on it until June 2025.

“No one will be forced to leave the organisation as a result.”

Caroline Pridgeon, a Liberal Democrat London Assembly member, said: “With the Met’s turnover of officers being so high at present, there is a real concern that vital skills in specialist roles could be lost.

“The Enhanced Retention Scheme was a genuinely positive initiative that would have helped ensure the institutional memory of specialised skills would not be lost and that there would not be extended periods of time where skills need to be built back up from a standing start.

“Given the challenges faced by the Met currently it seems very ill-advised to have ended this scheme so early.”