LONDON - How could rampaging students so easily threaten Britain's heir to the throne?
Government security officials had no quick answer Friday for that mortifying question, amid calls in the media for officials to be fired and scathing criticism from security experts on every aspect of Thursday night's near-disaster.
Video and pictures from the Associated Press showed it all. Angry student protesters, pumped up from earlier scuffles with police, found a delectable target elsewhere: Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, sitting in a vintage Rolls-Royce on their way to a charity event at a London theater.
Some protesters chanted "Off with their heads!" Others smashed one of the car's rear windows and splashed it with white paint. A photograph showed Charles and Camilla visibly shaken but unharmed.
Buckingham Palace does not comment on royal security procedures, but security experts said the prince was lucky to have escaped unharmed. They also identified a host of security failures surrounding the royal outing - and warned that procedures must be radically improved before Prince William's wedding to Kate Middleton at London's Westminster Abbey on April 29.
"It wasn't potentially dangerous - it was dangerous," said security analyst Charles Shoebridge, calling the attack "one of the most serious security breaches of the past decade."
He said the royal couple should have taken a different route in central London to the theater, or waited until the streets were safe and clear of protesters or simply sent their regrets and canceled.
"The best means of preventing a subject being attacked is to keep him out of harm's way in the first place," he said.
British police should have been talking with the royal protection squad to ensure the couple never came near the protests - and most certainly not in a vintage Rolls-Royce, said Alex Bomberg, a former aide to the royal family and chief executive officer of Intelligence Protection International Ltd.
The prince's boxy car lacked speed and maneuverability and had big clear windows with reinforced but not bulletproof glass. With two police motorcycles in front and an official royal Jaguar behind it, the vehicle was instantly recognizable as a royal car.
"You couldn't get away in an emergency in a vintage 1977 Rolls-Royce," Bomberg said. "They should have used something more high powered and up-to-date."
Somehow, protesters also managed to get between the police escort and the royal car.
London's theater district is a maze of narrow, one-way streets and constantly crowded with tourists and theatergoers. Cars and taxis making their way through the area often go at a snail's pace, providing an easy target even for attackers on foot.
The Palladium Theater is on a one-way street. Without a clear escape route, the vehicle and route should never have been used, Bomberg said.
"You can't blame the royal protection squad for a bunch of anarchists' bad behavior," Bomberg said. "But you can blame someone for not doing their job correctly and not understanding the situation as it was unfolding. Someone's head should bloody roll."
Bomberg said that police, using live video feeds, should have kept the royal protection squad apprised of the volatile situation and been ready to change plans at a moment's notice.