LONDON (AP) – Holy intruder! A protester dressed in a Batman costume scaled the front wall of Buckingham Palace on Monday and perched for more than five hours on a ledge near the balcony where the royal family appears on ceremonial occasions.

The protester’s success in climbing the wall in front of the queen’s main residence prompted fresh questions about the much-criticized and recently overhauled royal security operation. “It’s not good enough and we want to know how this happened,” Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens told British Broadcasting Corp. radio.

Two police officers in a cherry-picker crane removed the protester, Jason Hatch, from the ledge at about 7:15 p.m., 5½ hours after he climbed up. His Batman mask removed and a white helmet placed on his head, he waved and clapped as the crane lowered him to the ground.

Hatch, 33, from Gloucester, is a member of the Fathers 4 Justice group, which is campaigning for greater custody rights for divorced or separated fathers and has staged a number of stunts to promote their cause.

No member of the royal family was at the palace Monday. Queen Elizabeth II was at her Balmoral residence in Scotland.

Still, police were stung by the apparent ease with which Hatch climbed up to his perch. Asked if the breach was embarrassing for authorities, Stevens replied, “There’s no doubt it is. I’ve asked for a full report as soon as possible on my desk tomorrow morning. We’ve got to resolve the situation.”

Police tried to talk Hatch as he stood for hours above a banner bearing the words “Superdads of Fathers 4 Justice, Fighting for Your Right to See Your Kid.”

Fathers 4 Justice members said Hatch and an accomplice dressed as Batman’s partner, Robin, had climbed a palace perimeter fence while fellow protesters distracted police by creating a disturbance.

Matt O’Connor, the group’s spokesman, said Hatch and the man in the Robin costume, Dave Pyke, used an extendable aluminum ladder to climb the side of the palace to the balcony. Pyke said he came down when he’d gotten halfway up the ladder because a police officer threatened to shoot him, but no one detained him and he walked away.

Police apprehended him later. He said it had been “unbelievably easy” to breach security.

“We are totally untrained; we are just ordinary guys. If we can get in there anybody can,” he said.

O’Connor said the protest was timed to coincide with Monday’s trial of another group member, Patrick Ronald Davis, 48, who is accused of throwing purple flour at Prime Minister Tony Blair in the House of Commons in May. That incident sparked a security alert, and new restrictions on public access to the chamber.

On Saturday, another member of the group who dressed as Spider-man climbed atop the 137-meter London Eye Ferris wheel beside the River Thames.

In another headline-grabbing stunt, one of the group’s members spent five days atop a 120-foot crane beside London’s Tower Bridge to call attention to the group’s cause.

A government-commissioned report had warned in May that terrorists could exploit lax security that allowed a tabloid reporter to join the royal staff. In response, Buckingham Palace created a new position of security director.

Officials were embarrassed on the eve of a state visit by President Bush in November when Daily Mirror reporter Ryan Parry revealed he had been hired by the palace even though he gave false references.

Parry’s stories, which included details about the queen’s breakfast tastes and photos of a rubber duck in the royal bath, were picked up by media worldwide.

An earlier royal embarrassment came in June 2003 when a comedian dressed as Osama bin Laden gatecrashed Prince William’s 21st birthday party at Windsor Castle, kissing the prince on both cheeks.

“This is another embarrassing breakdown in security at the palace,” Mark Oaten, law enforcement issues spokesman for the opposition Liberal Democrat party, said of Monday’s episode. “After so many episodes like this, there must be serious questions asked over the ability of our authorities to protect the royal family.”

Darryl Westell, another Fathers 4 Justice activist, said Hatch had not been able to see his two children for four years even though he lived only a short walk away from them.

“Not seeing your children is worse than being put in prison,” Pyke said.

Blair’s spokesman said, “We don’t believe that events like this actually help address what is the complexity of the problem.”

AP-ES-09-13-04 1443EDT

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