Queen Elizabeth II leaves Westminster Hall after a Diamond Jubilee Luncheon given for The Queen by The Livery Companies of The City of London on June 5, 2012 in London, England. For only the second time in its history the UK celebrates the Diamond Jubilee of a monarch. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II celebrates the 60th anniversary of her ascension to the throne with a carriage procession and a service of thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral. Getty Images
By Ian Johnston
A group of unemployed people were brought to London to do unpaid work at the queen’s jubilee celebrations and told to sleep under a city bridge, a British newspaper reported on Tuesday.
The Guardian newspaper reported that long-term jobless from Bristol, Bath and Plymouth in western England were taken by bus to the capital city for “work experience” as crowd-control staff lining the route of the river pageant and other events, and the chance to get paid employment at the London Olympics.
The security company that ran the security operation said while the unemployed people were not paid, they did receive boots and clothing worth more than $180 and a security industry license costing about $390. It added that the bridge incident “should never have happened.”
‘Raining and freezing’
One of the group told The Guardian that they arrived in London at 3 a.m. local time Sunday after a four-hour bus drive from Bristol.
“We all got off the coach and we were stranded on the side of the road for 20 minutes until they came back and told us all to follow them,” the woman told The Guardian. “We followed them under London Bridge and that’s where they told us to camp out for the night … it was raining and freezing.”
She and another jobless person — the paper said both did not want to be named for fear they would lose their welfare payments — said they had to change into security clothes in public and had no access to toilets for 24 hours. After a 14-hour shift Sunday, they went to sleep in a tent on the outskirts of the city.
They claimed they had initially been told they would be paid and only learned they would not as they got onto the bus Saturday night.
The jobless group was working for Close Protection UK, a private firm that won a contract to provide stewards to help control the crowds during the jubilee celebrations and will also provide stewards for the Olympics.
“The London Bridge incident should never have happened but was to some extent outside our control,” Molly Prince, managing director of Close Protection UK, said in an emailed statement.
‘Not for the faint hearted’
“The nature of Festival & Event work is such that we often travel sleeping on coaches through the night with an early morning pre-event start,” she added. “It is the nature of the business and there is no misconception about this, it’s hard work and not for the faint hearted.”
However she said the bus drivers had “insisted on leaving” after they arrived in London at 3 a.m. Sunday.
“For this we sincerely apologize,” the statement added. “… The Drivers said their work was done even though they were there 2 hours ahead of schedule.”
She said the firm would not be using the bus company again.
Prince wrote that most of the people who worked at the pageant were “happy, fed and looked after as best [as] possible under the circumstances.”
“We are not in the business of exploiting anyone,” she added.
Prince said in another email to msnbc.com that the Guardian article and media spin “could jeopardize my entire business.”
She added the “20 or so volunteers” had been taken “off the job” Tuesday.
The jobless people were placed with Close Protection UK by a charity, called Tomorrow’s People.
Abi Levitt, the charity’s director of development services, told msnbc.com that the drivers’ departure was a “very unfortunate incident.”
She stressed taking the unpaid work was “absolutely voluntary for a day at the jubilee.”