Image: Protestor dressed as Batman on a ledge at Buckingham Palace.
AP
Protester Jason Hatch, dressed as Batman, stands on a ledge at London's Buckingham Palace, on Monday, near the balcony where the royal family appears on ceremonial occasions.
By Jennifer Carlile Reporter
msnbc.com
updated 9/14/2004 4:16:44 PM ET 2004-09-14T20:16:44

The tabloids scoffed, government ministers vowed to step up security and Britons had a good laugh -- that is when they weren't worrying about the security implications.

Yes, "Batman" caused quite a stir in Gotham City, sorry London, on Monday, when a protester dressed as the comic-book superhero scaled the walls of Buckingham Palace to bring attention to the cause of divorced fathers who lack visitation rights with their children. 

Outside the palace on Tuesday, everybody had an opinion on the embarrassing security breach at the royal residence.

“Personally I think they should’ve called London Zoo, got them to come over and dart the guy, catch him in a net, and have him wake up in a gorilla cage,” said South Carolina native Chris Rodrigues.

“I think it’s not a wise idea cause it could go pear shaped; people could’ve got hurt, all kinds of things could’ve happened,” said Linda Wingfield, as she waited to enter the palace.

The 58-year-old from Nottingham suggested that if there was another incident, police might not be able to tell the difference between an activist dressed as a superhero and a terrorist masquerading as an activist.

“If people can get over fences like that, it’s a problem,” she said.

Rodrigues, on vacation with his wife, added, “It makes the job of the security forces harder; they’re gonna have to chase ghosts now instead’ve chasing real terrorists.”

Urgent review
Britain's feisty tabloids had a field day Tuesday, but they also warned of the serious implications.

“Holey security Batman!” jibed The Sun, while the Daily Mail asked: “Batman makes a laughing stock of Britain’s security forces, but what if it had been al-Qaida?”

Embarrassed Buckingham Palace security have launched an urgent review after Jason Hatch, 32, climbed onto a ledge 25-feet up the front of the palace, while dressed as Batman, and unfurled a banner reading “Super dads of Fathers 4 Justice.”

A group of fellow activists had distracted security guards by climbing on the ornate gates at the front of the palace while the "super-hero" and his sidekick David Pyke, dressed as Robin, hopped over a small fence on the side of the palace next to Green Park, extended a ladder, and climbed up onto the ledge.

Image: Police guard Buckingham Palace.
Jennifer Carlile/ MSNBC.com
Metropolitan police guard Buckingham Palace, in London, on Tuesday, near to the area where a protestor dressed as Batman succeeded in ascending the palace's facade a day earlier.
Pyke (Robin) came down when police officers threatened to shoot him, but Hatch (Batman) edged his way around the palace to a spot adjacent to the first-floor ceremonial balcony and remained there, under the spotlight of international media crews, for about five hours.

It was “unbelievably easy” to breech security, Pyke said later on Monday. And at a news conference on Tuesday, Hatch said “it’s easier to get onto the Queen’s balcony than see my own children.”

The two were released on bail Tuesday morning, and will have to appear in court in December.

Although the Queen was at Balmoral Castle in Scotland and no other royal family members were present at the time of the security breech, the audacity of the stunt alarmed the country.

However, Home Secretary David Blunkett at least partially defended the palace’s security. "I’m satisfied that we did what was necessary,” Blunkett told the BBC.

“I’m not satisfied that everything worked perfectly last night, although the alarms and cameras did,” he said speaking of the new surveillance system put in place after a review following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Mixed views on fathers' plight
“I think (the stunt) has highlighted a few issues which are embarrassing for (the palace security) because they didn’t realize it on their own,” said Julie, a spokeswoman for Fathers 4 Justice, who withheld her last name.

“The major issue is to get people’s attention – we’re saying this is how bad the situation is that we have to go to these major extremes to get people’s attention cause it doesn’t seem to work by any other way,” she said.

Julie said that the majority of fathers who join the 7,000-8,000 strong organization have been awarded visitation rights by a judge, but little is done to ensure the court orders.

“These fathers paid thousands of pounds (in child support) to see their kids and they still don’t get to,” she said.

“There should be a punishment, such as community service, for women who don’t let fathers see their children,” she said.

Sympathy?
It's not clear whether the group won much sympathy for its cause after Monday's stunt.

“Batman was just embarrassing — there’s all sorts of people like this all over the world who want to exploit things — it’s certainly embarrassing for the police too because there was a lapse in security,” said Robert, an industrial mechanic from Toronto, Canada, who asked that his last name not be used

He said he has “no compassion for them,” but isn’t overly worried about a terrorist intruder taking advantage of similar security gaps.

“I think it’s just a fanatic and nothing to worry about,” said Robert.

“After Sept. 11, 2001, it crossed my mind, but life goes on; we don’t deal with it all the time, so I don’t feel too bad traveling,” he said.

Rodrigues, the South Carolina native, said, “I don’t think he would’ve wanted to go too much further -- I think he would’ve found some really nasty surprises.

“I think if (fathers’ visitation/custodial rights) in the U.K. are like in the U.S. it’s a justifiable cause, but I don’t think they do themselves much good with stupid stunts like that,” Rodrigues, and engineer, said.

Series of stunts
Hatch’s protest was timed to coincide with Monday’s trial of another Fathers 4 Justice member, Patrick Ronald Davis, 48, who is accused of throwing purple flour at Prime Minister Tony Blair in the House of Commons in May. That incident sparked a security alert and new restrictions on public access to the chamber.

On Saturday, another member of the group who dressed as Spiderman climbed atop the 450-foot-tall London Eye Ferris wheel beside the River Thames. Last year, one of the group’s members spent five days atop a 120-foot crane beside Tower Bridge.

Commenting on group’s stunts, Australian tourist Philip Martin said, “I think it’s the wrong way to do it — you go through the proper channels and you get the right response.”

The Sydney native said he thought the “police were doing a marvelous job.”

But,  regarding the threat of international terrorism, Martin said “I think that the way the world is today, if somebody really wants to get in nothing’s going to stop them no matter what country it is.”

“But I don’t think it’ll stop those that want to travel from traveling,” he added.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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