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EDITIONS
Friday, 10 January, 2003, 13:49 GMT
Experts back police tactics
Unidentified resident at the scene
Residents are looking forward to normality again

The police handling of the 15-day siege in Hackney, east London, has drawn criticism for a cautious approach and a cost of more than 500,000. But independent experts have praised officers for the operation.
Being trapped in your flat for two weeks would make anyone impatient.

And residents holed up in Hackney while the police tried to delicately resolve the siege are angry direct action was not used to force an earlier breakthrough.

Their handling is a text-book example of patience and skill - keeping the public safe in what could have been a very dangerous situation

Professor Paul Wilkinson
Terrorism expert
Neighbour Peter Kelly told BBC News: "If they can blast out the windows with baton rounds, and then get CS gas in there, they could have done that on day one.

"They could have done it but actually the guy might even be alive. Heads should roll."

But terrorism and police scholars have now joined community leaders who earlier applauded police tactics.

Professor Paul Wilkinson, of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence University at St Andrews University, told BBC News Online: "Maybe it was frustrating if you're a resident and life is disrupted by these events.

'No choice'

"But the key thing is no-one has been killed or injured, except the hostage-taker himself.

"That's something the police could not have avoided, and their handling is a text-book example of patience and skill - keeping the public safe in what could have been a very dangerous situation."

Ian Francis, deputy editor of Jane's Police Review, said the loss of the gunman's life would mar the police assessment of their performance.

He told BBC News Online: "They will feel it's failed because they have not got everyone out alive."

Iranian Embassy as SAS storm the building in 1980
Storming the Iranian Embassy was hailed a success
But he added: "Their policy is to play a waiting game and usually that's paid off because people come out after a few days.

"You would think he would have come out earlier, with no food or gas.

"The police didn't handle it any different to situations that have ended quicker and with no loss of life."

Officers were aware of the violent history of gunman Eli Hall and Commander Bob Quick said this knowledge influenced the police approach.

"I cannot underline how difficult and volatile he can be," he said.

Death toll

Images of the SAS storming the Iranian Embassy to end the 1980 siege are still fresh in the memory.

On that occasion, six armed Iranians held 26 hostages for six days at the embassy in London.

When one of the civilians was killed, the SAS went in as cameras beamed the drama around the world.

The death toll was two hostages and five gunmen, prompting then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to hail the action a great success.

The police in this case have done their duty for the public good very well

Roger Bingham
Liberty
But Professor Wilkinson said comparisons with Hackney were unfair because the Iranian Embassy situation had been potentially much more threatening.

"That was also a success, although it took a different route.

"There's no magic solution to these situations and I think the Met Police expertise is comparable to the New York hostage squad, which is considered to be one of the models."

The Moscow theatre siege last year - when 129 hostages died - demonstrated how direct action can backfire.

Before the end of the Hackney stalemate, police warned of the risks of forcing the issue.

Human rights

Commander Quick said: "Police need a huge justification to take pre-emptive action that could lead to an exchange of gunfire and possibly result in a fatality.

"That justification is in some senses a subjective one but the police are ultimately accountable for their actions to the courts."

Mr Francis supported this by saying the introduction of the SAS in 1980 was an admission of police failure in that case, and not an applicable tactic in Hackney.

Betty Gibson and paramedic
Paramedics escorted residents to safety
Sue Carroll of the Daily Mirror raised the issue of whether Eli Hall's human rights as a gunman had been considered a factor.

But Roger Bingham of human rights campaign group Liberty, told BBC News Online: "The police have a duty to protect life and use the minimum necessary force.

"That's a human rights duty and what we would want and expect from them.

"It seems that the police in this case have done their duty for the public good very well."


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