Royal Mile bag searches ruled out for Edinburgh Fringe

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe has ruled out bag searches being carried out on thousands of festival-goers thronging popular street theatre arenas - despite a stepping up of security in the wake of recent terror attacks in London and Manchester.
Hundreds of performers stage free shows every day on the Royal Mile and The Mound during the Fringe.Hundreds of performers stage free shows every day on the Royal Mile and The Mound during the Fringe.
Hundreds of performers stage free shows every day on the Royal Mile and The Mound during the Fringe.

A more visible police presence and more robust road blocks beside pedestrianised areas are among the measures expected to be put in place during the Fringe, which more than two million people are expected to attend in August.

Organisers believe it would be impractical to impose such a measure on everyone entering public areas like the Royal Mile and The Mound this August.

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Fringe Society chief executive Shona McCarthy said security was “top of the agenda” for the Fringe this summer and was already being reviewed in the wake of the most recent incidents.

Bag searches are already carried out at the main entrance to the Royal Edinburgh Military Tatttoo at Edinburgh Castle esplanade.

But she said she did not believe it would be “feasible, possible or desirable” to search people using public highways during the three-and-a-half week long event, which will be celebrating its 70th anniversary in August.

Ms McCarthy said registered Fringe venues may be advised to step up their own security measures once a full safety audit of the festival was carried out, or choose to carry out their own searches.

Talks have already been held with police chiefs and council officials in the wake of the recent terror attacks.

Security is being stepped up for major events across the country, like this weekend’s Robbie Williams concert at Murrayfield and the Scotland-England World Cup qualifier at Hampden. But areas where street performances are staged in Edinburgh in August are unticketed.

One source said: “There will be basically be strong enough barriers in place to ensure that anyone trying to drive into a pedestrianised area will not be able to do so.

“But it would be impossible to search everyone who is going to be in a pedestrianised area in August.”

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Ms McCarthy, has previously lived and worked in Belfast, is in her second year at the helm of the Fringe.

She said: “For anybody doing an event at the moment, security is uppermost in their minds.

“We’re in constant contact with the police, counter-terrorism officials, the city council and all of the other players that are involved with safety and security in the city.

“Of course it’s going to be a priority, of course everybody is talking about it at the moment and of course we’re putting updated plans in place to make sure we can keep people as safe as we possibly.

“We’re still in conversations to decide what we will do in terns of the areas the Fringe Society are responsible for. Obviously the Royal Mile and The Mound are open public areas and it is not feasible, possible or even desirable to do bag checks on public walkways and in public spaces.

“We don’t have any control over individual venues. Some of them may choose of their own volition to do bag checks.”

A spokeswoman for the Fringe added: “There are ongoing conversations with police, counter-terrorism and the city council in terms of an over-arching response and recommendations for the Fringe.

“Every single year we have regular meetings in the run-up to the Fringe, but of course we’ve had further conversations this year. These are very much based on their advice, updating our event plan and making sure we disseminate information to our network of venues so that they have the best practices in place that they possibly can.

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“It would be wrong for us to comment on any recommendations until a lot closer to the event. There are different protocols in place depending on the level of threat at the time.

“There is no specific threat to Edinburgh and Scotland. There is no intelligence to suggest we’re in a more threatened position than we’ve been in previously.

“That’s absolutely the message we’ve been given and it’s absolutely the message we would give to the public.

There’s nothing to suggest there’s any issue here, but we’re doing everything we can to ensure that every performer, venue and space is safe.”

Roddy Smith, chief executive of city centre group Essential Edinburgh, said: “We will take our lead directly from the police and the counter-terrorism experts. Whatever they advise we will deliver.

“I would imagine we will be doing something to ensure that vehicles are not able to enter pedestrian areas when events are ongoing.”