The Queen undertook her first engagement in public since the beginning of the pandemic, and was accompanied by grandson, The Duke of Cambridge for the event. The royal duo visited the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) at Porton Down near Salisbury, to officially open its new Energetics Analysis Centre.
Prince William and Elizabeth II met scientists involved in highly classified research and analysis to protect the UK against terrorist and criminal threats.
Beginning with a private tour of the Energetics Enclosure, they viewed displays of weaponry and tactics used in counterintelligence.
They were also given a demonstration of a Forensic Explosives Investigation (FEL) and meet staff employed in Counter Terrorism and Security. Sniffer dog Max was tasked with finding explosives in a white van.
The Queen – wearing her Grima Ruby brooch – asked: “Is he more interested in the ball or the explosives?”
His handler replied “Always the ball.” The Monarch grinned in response.
FEL teams often provide evidence and act as expert witnesses, or provide statements to this effect, in court cases, such as the Manchester Arena bombing and Parsons Green attack.
The Royals also spoke to staff involved in identifying the nerve agent Novichok and the subsequent clear-up of the Salisbury attack in 2018. Russian agents have been identified as being involved in targeting a former KGB agent,
William last undertook an engagement with his grandmother in July 2017, following the Grenfell Tower fire. They met members of the community as well as firefighters and first responders.
In recognition of their important work in the Salisbury poisoning incident, The Duke of Cambridge presented the Army’s Headquarters South West with the Firmin Sword of Peace. He gave the sword to resented British Army Colonel Mike Duff, for their role going above and beyond.
Buckingham Palace said medical advice had been sought and necessary precautions taken for the visit, including Covid and temperature tests of those participating in the visit. Both the Monarch and Prince arrived separately and social distancing was maintained throughout.
At 94, The Queen is in the high-risk group, but seemed in good spirits at the event. She has been conducting mostly virtual engagements, including video calls throughout lockdown, but was seen in person at the investiture ceremony of Captain Tom at Windsor in July, as well as the scaled-back version of Trooping the Colour in June.
The palace said she may use Buckingham Palace for some audiences and official engagements in the coming months, dependant on the current COVID restrictions.
The palace has only been used recently for an official visit from the President of Ukraine; Prince William and Catherine welcomed Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his wife, Olena, last week – another sign of the future King and Queen taking on more significant roles in stately and ceremonial royal life.
Part of the visit saw The Queen and Duke unveil a plaque to mark their visit.
The Royals signed the guest book, with Her Majesty commenting: “Well it proves we’ve been here, doesn’t it?”
Chief executive Gary Aitkenhead said: “There is no greater accolade than to have The Queen and The Duke of Cambridge open this extraordinary building, particularly during a global pandemic.
“We showed her just a small fraction of what we do here on this site. The focus was particularly on explosive detection, which was crucial to the Manchester Arena bombing attack and Parsons Green terrorist attacks.
“She was impressed actually at the range of people, the passion and the enthusiasm that all the staff here show.
“The work here at Porton Down is crucial to protecting the UK’s safety and if there is any kind of explosive threat, both at home or abroad, the team here are involved.
“We talk about the science inside; we are the science behind our country’s military capability, policing, counter-terroism and national security.”