An attack on a car carrying Prince Charles and his wife Camilla has raised questions as to how the two Royal Family members could have been chauffeured into the middle of a volatile student protest.

The royal couple was headed to a charity event on Thursday evening when their Rolls Royce was attacked in London's West End.

The vehicle drove through an area where students had been protesting planned tuition hikes, and some protesters had escaped from the grasp of police who were trying to keep them in check.

As many as 20 protesters smashed the windows of the royal vehicle and threw white paint on it. Some yelled "Off with their heads!" and other taunts as they surrounded the car and kicked its doors as it tried to make its way to an event at the London Palladium.

According to the Daily Mail, the incident was so serious that officers on the royal protection squad were seconds from drawing their weapons.

The newspaper reported that one rioter actually managed to reach inside the vehicle and prod Camilla in the ribs with a stick. One of the vintage car's windows had been left partially open before it was surrounded by the mob.

Prince Charles and Camilla were not harmed, though they were shaken by what happened.

Associated Press reporter Matt Dunham witnessed the attack and said Camilla "looked terrified" as the car came under attack.

Dunham said the prince appeared calm, but said "they must have both been terrified" by the actions of the protesters.

A photo showing the open-mouthed reactions of the couple as they sat inside their car seemed to sum up the shocking nature of the incident.

A spokesman for the Prince said the royal couple "totally understand the difficulties which the police face and are always very grateful to the police for the job they do in often very challenging circumstances."

The Duchess later laughed off the incident, saying: "First time for everything," before the couple were taken home in a marked police van.

"Prince Charles is not the head of state, but he is next in line to the throne," CTV's London Bureau Chief Tom Kennedy told CTV News Channel from London on Friday. "This is almost as if the Queen were attacked if she had been out. It is almost as bad."

The incident has raised questions about how British officials keep the Royal Family safe, as well as whether security regulations need to be updated before the April wedding of Prince William and his fiancée, Kate Middleton.

Brian Paddick, a former police assistant commissioner, told CTV News Channel "For the heir to the throne to be put in danger that way is a serious mistake."

Officials quickly put the blame on protesters, while critics questioned how the royals ended up in the middle of the protest in the first place.

Security expert Charles Shoebridge said the people providing security to the Royal Family should be aware of all developing events to prevent their VIPs from entering into a dangerous situation.

"There are procedures and protocols that have been in place for many, many years that have been tried and tested," Shoebridge told CTV News Channel in a telephone interview from London on Friday.

"And it's really a mystery in many ways why these protocols weren't followed, or don't appear to have been followed on this occasion."

Considering the fact that the demonstrations were well publicized, Shoebridge said it "seems bizarre" that the prince and his wife were allowed to enter the area.

Alex Bomberg, a former aide to the royal family, said police should have kept the royal protection squad better informed of the specific and immediate dangers that the protesters posed.

"You can't blame the royal protection squad for a bunch of anarchists' bad behavior," Bomberg told The Associated Press.

"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."

The Guardian newspaper reported that London Mayor Boris Johnson said that while there are questions about why the car took the route it did, blame should be placed upon the "large number of agitators who were determined to cause the maximum possible trouble and provocation" on the street.

Metropolitan Police Chief Paul Stephenson vowed to launch a thorough investigation into the incident and praised the nearly 3,000 officers who dealt with the "thugs" at the protest.

Thirty-four people were arrested on Thursday, though police would not confirm if the arrests were related to the protesters.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said the people responsible should feel "the full force of the law."

Speaking from Downing Street, Cameron said "responsibility for smashing property, or violence, lies with the people who perpetrate that violence and I want to see them arrested and punished in the correct way."

Despite reports that the violence was limited to a few individuals, the prime minister said it appeared "there were quite a number of people who clearly were there wanting to pursue violence and destroy property."

But no matter what post-mortem spin is placed on what happened, Kennedy said it is nearly undeniable that "somebody made a mistake" at some point on Thursday.

"I think there's a general acceptance when something like this happens, when a car carrying the royal couple is driven right into a street filled with demonstrators, I think the logical conclusion is that somebody made a mistake," said Kennedy.

With files from The Associated Press