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  Saturday, 6 April, 2002, 21:34 GMT 22:34 UK
National security plan underway
The crowds disperse as the 1997 IRA bomb scare causes huge disruption at Aintree
The 1997 IRA bomb scare caused huge disruption
A major security operation aims to prevent any disruption to the world's most famous steeplechase on Saturday, as BBC Sport Online's Frank Keogh reports.

Police are mounting a determined effort to ensure a trouble-free 2002 Martell Grand National meeting.

Scores of officers are on duty inside and outside Aintree Racecourse in a carefully-planned operation aimed at safeguarding a total of 120,000 people over three days.

Vehicles coming into the course are routinely checked, while racegoers must hand over bags and items such as mobile phones as they go through airport-style scanners at entrances.


Last year, there was not a single reported crime at the Grand National
Police inspector Chris Armitt
Security has been a by-word for the meeting ever since an IRA bomb alert led to the Aintree course being evacuated five years ago, and the big race run two days later on a Monday.

The 11 September terrorist attacks and a planned demonstration by animal rights activists at the course means renewed vigilance is required this time around.

Inspector Chris Armitt, Merseyside police's planning team leader for the Grand National, started preparing for the event nearly six months ago.

"The main focus is that everyone who comes here has a good time and nothing detracts from that," says inspector Armitt, who admits he has little interest in the horse racing itself.

"There's no specific threat to the Grand National from any terrorist group.

"But since 1997, we have learned the lessons, along with Aintree Racecourse, and have created a very secure and safe environment for the race meeting."

The security checks inevitably mean delays for punters, and patience can wear thin, but police believe it is worth the wait.

"It's for their own safety, and we appreciate the patience of racegoers," says the 36-year-old inspector.

"We have refined the security measures and think people get into the course pretty quickly considering the level of security."

Inspector Chris Armitt surveys the scene at Aintree
Inspector Chris Armitt surveys the scene at Aintree
The pressure group Animal Aid has vowed to stage the biggest ever protest at the meeting in 2002, claiming the event is too dangerous for the horses.

Inspector Armitt said discussions had been held with the organisation, and it had agreed to stage Saturday's demonstration outside the course.

"We have been in contact with them, and they have assured us it will be a peaceful protest," he said.

"They are looking to make a visual impact and get their message across in a lawful manner."

Despite the tight security, the meeting boasts a good-natured atmosphere.

"The crowd is extremely well-natured, very co-operative, and I think they understand what we have to do," said Armitt.

"Last year, there was not a single reported crime at the Grand National."

The world's most famous steeplechase

Bindaree's triumph

Our man at Aintree

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