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Millions could miss to pay their last respects to the Queen, it was warned last night.
From today, mourners can bid farewell to the monarch as she lies in state in Westminster Hall until her funeral on Monday.
But they are faced with the fact that they have to join a line that winds up to five miles back – and can stand in line for as long as 35 hours.
Up to a million people are expected to pay their respects at her coffin in central London.
But officials estimate that up to 400,000 will be able to do so – meaning more than half could be turned down disappointed.
There were calls yesterday to extend the Queen’s final journey to her resting place at Windsor Castle in order to maximize the number of people able to ride along the route.
Up to a million people are expected to pay their respects at her coffin in central London. The Queen’s casket is pictured above leaving RAF Northolt, West London en route to Buckingham Palace
Whitehall officials said there were plans to speed up vulnerable people in line for the recumbent state and ensure that as many people as possible have a chance to say goodbye.
But experts, including a former Downing Street adviser, warned that people waiting at night — especially the elderly — risk harming them.
Yesterday, a 75-year-old grandfather in line was the first to tie the knot.
The arrangements for marking the monarch’s death have come under intense scrutiny, and millions are expected to flock to London in the coming days. Last night the Queen was returned from Edinburgh to London by the RAF.
But the decision to cancel proposals to transport her coffin on the Royal Train meant far fewer people could witness the spectacle.
The government released details last night for people wishing to pass by the Queen’s coffin at Westminster Hall at the Palace of Westminster.
Her state in state begins today at 5 p.m. and lasts four and a half days until her state funeral on Monday. It will be open 24 hours a day
Ministers have warned that the queue, which stretches along the Thames, could last between 5 and 35 hours, with little opportunity to sit down or sleep.
Families have been advised to consider whether children can handle it. About 1,500 soldiers, sailors and pilots have been called in to assist flight attendants.
Experts, including a former Downing Street adviser, warned that people waiting at night – especially the elderly – risk harming them. Yesterday a 75-year-old grandfather in line was the first to nod
Jonathan Haslam, Director of Communications at Number 10 under Sir John Major, said: ‘It is wonderful that so many want to pay their respects to Her Majesty. But not everyone will be able to do that personally.
“There has been a reality error with the planners. When someone said, “People can queue for 30 hours,” who said, “That’s insane, we need a better answer”?
He told Times Radio: “I’m really concerned about the health of people of my generation, and even younger people.
“Good people can harm themselves by standing in long lines. Her Majesty wouldn’t have wanted that, and neither would the King. There are fair ways to get as many people as possible through Westminster Hall efficiently. Wisely-assigned number-timed tickets, using the technology we have, would be a sensible step forward. I’m afraid we’re sleepwalking into a very difficult situation.’
The mourners began lining up at 12 noon Monday, some 53 hours before the start of the sunbathing area at 5 p.m. today, along the embankment on the south side of Lambeth Bridge.
One of the first to arrive, 75-year-old David Carlson, died in the rain yesterday. The former soldier from Wandsworth, south London, refused to give up his place and vowed to walk into Westminster Hall today ‘if this is the last thing I do’.
In true British style, the queue has been given a carnival atmosphere. It was accompanied by the Archbishop of York who led a song last night, which said, ‘The Queen’s last gift was to bring us all together.’ He called the strength of the mourners “an inspiration.”
Pictured above in 1952 are people waiting in line to pay their respects to King George VI at London’s Great Hall of Westminster
Dame Esther Rantzen, founder of the Silver Line charity, said: “A lot of people want to take part in the historic moment and see the state. But for anyone who is vulnerable, I’m afraid it’s impossible for them to see the deceased queen’s coffin.
“The long queues could be a real problem, and a time recording system would have been a really good idea.”
Whitehall officials have emphasized that frail and elderly people struggling with the physical demands of the queue will be accelerated.
A government source said stewards will be asked to “proactively identify” them and ensure they get help. They said, ‘They’ll take them out of line, sit down and check they’re okay, and then see if they can be moved forward in line to make it easier for them.
“For the first time, there will also be a dedicated access queue, with timed access for those who are unable to queue for long due to circumstances.”
Officials have models based on estimates that about 3,000 people can pass through Westminster Hall every hour. But a source said this was “on the conservative side” and could end up significantly higher.
The government has provided 500 portable toilets to be installed along the row. Some public buildings will also open their facilities.
Officials also plan to provide predicted wait times, but a source acknowledged that these would initially be “rough and ready-made estimates.”
Downing Street denied there would be a cap on visitor numbers, but said some who wish to pay their respects in person are likely to be disappointed.
The Prime Minister’s spokesperson said: “We want anyone who wants to see her to be able to see her, but we recognize that there is a limited amount of time and many people who want to.”
Following Monday’s state funeral, the coffin will follow a ‘processional route’ to Hyde Park Corner and then be transferred to a hearse to travel to its final site at Windsor Castle. Calls have been made to expand the route so that more people can witness Her Majesty’s final journey.