LONDON // An inquiry was launched yesterday into an attack by rioting students on a car carrying Prince Charles and his wife through central London.
The Rolls Royce taking the heir to the British throne and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, to a West End theatre for a charity show was surrounded by about 20 baying students on Thursday night.
Witnesses said a window on the car was broken and paint daubed on a rear wing as the rioters, to the clear distress of the royal couple, set upon the vehicle with fists, boots and bottles, chanting, "Off with their heads" and "Tory scum".
The attack happened as thousands of students ran amok through central London after a demonstration against government plans to triple university fees for English students.
During the unrest, windows were smashed at the Treasury and the Supreme Court in London, fires were started and statues, including one of Sir Winston Churchill in Parliament Square, were defaced.
Scotland Yard said that 12 policemen had been injured, six of them seriously, as the 2,800 officers policing the demonstration came under attack from flares, sticks, snooker balls and paint balls. A total of 43 protesters were injured, one of whom underwent brain surgery yesterday, and 34 people were arrested.
Apart from trying to identify those responsible for the attack, the inquiry will look into the role of the police in protecting the prince and his wife, particularly over the route their car took, and the efficacy of the armed protection officers who accompanied the royal couple.
The British prime minister, David Cameron, said lessons needed to be learned from the riot and the attack on the prince's car.
"There were quite a number of people who clearly were there wanting to pursue violence and to destroy property," he told Sky News. "I know that the Metropolitan Police Commissioner [Sir Paul Stephenson] is going to be working hard to report on this. I also know, quite rightly, he will look into the regrettable incident where the Prince of Wales and his wife were nearly attacked by this mob.
"But above all, what we need to make sure is that these people who behaved in these appalling ways feel the full force of the law of the land."
Mr Cameron said that he been "very concerned" about the apparent lapse in royal security and had phoned the prince's private secretary as soon as he learned of the attack.
Speaking to journalists outside Scotland Yard, Sir Paul described the attack on the royals as "a very shocking incident" and said the armed officers protecting the couple had shown "commendable restraint". "Their royal highnesses ought to be commended for their fortitude in such a situation," he said. "That route was thoroughly recced in advance, including several minutes beforehand, when it was still clear."
But Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, said that "there are clearly questions to be asked about how they were on that route" to the Palladium theatre.
"Clearly, it is very regrettable that in the heart of London, the heir to the throne can be surrounded by agitators and his wife can be put in a position where she's plainly alarmed," he added.
The prince and his wife continued on to the theatre and attended the variety show, which was headlined by the pop group Take That.
After the performance, Camilla told journalists as she left the theatre: "I'm fine thanks - first time for everything."
The prince smiled but said nothing as the couple boarded a police van, rather than the damaged Rolls, to take them to their official London residence, Clarence House in Pall Mall.
The prince's spokesman said yesterday that the royal couple "totally understand the difficulties which the police face" and were "always very grateful to the police" for the job they do.