Harriet Harman on patrol wearing the jacket
Deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman has defended her decision to wear a stab proof jacket during a police walkabout in her south London constituency.
Ms Harman, also Commons leader and Labour chairman, rejected newspaper claims it suggested she did not feel safe on the streets.
She told the BBC that the neighbourhood police team she was with put on their stab vests and gave her one as well.
She said it was like wearing a white hairnet when visiting a meat factory.
The picture of Ms Harman wearing the jacket during a police walkabout in her Camberwell and Peckham constituency was taken by her assistant, put on her website and sent to the South London Press newspaper.
Ms Harman told BBC Radio 4's Today: "Most of the people in South London have got the good sense to recognise that I would be praising their neighbourhood police team and they would think nothing of it."
She explained that she had been in the police canteen hearing about their work ahead of going out on the streets.
"They busily hitched on their stab jackets... they were telling me about their new version, much lighter than the old one, so that if they have to chase criminals they can do it much more easily and it doesn't weigh them down.
"And they gave me and my assistant one to wear as well."
She said it was like wearing a white hairnet at a meat factory, or a hard hat at a building site.
Today's John Humphrys said: "You wear a hard hat on a building site because... there is the danger that something might drop on your head. You don't need to wear a bullet-proof vest on the streets of London, do you?"
Ms Harman responded: "No of course you don't."
"It was just a courtesy, there was no security issue whatsoever, it was almost like wearing the kit when you go out with the team," she said.
At his monthly media conference Prime Minister Gordon Brown was asked whether it was right that Ms Harman had worn an anti-stab jacket during her visit to Peckham.
He said: "When Harriet Harman went out with the neighbourhood policing unit she was working with them and that is why she was wearing what she was wearing.
"And she was emphasising the importance that we attach to neighbourhood policing in the community."
On her website, Ms Harman hails Labour's neighbourhood policing initiative, which she said had put more officers on the beat in Southwark.
The Daily Mail quotes an unnamed police source who said: "Everyone was flabbergasted by her decision to wear the vest, especially when she was guarded by three police officers. Senior politicians who have visited Peckham in the past have never worn one."
The newspaper said it was "a sad reflection of a modern Britain where police feel they have to offer VIP guests 'protection'".
The row comes as Ms Harman prepares to stand in for Gordon Brown for the first time at prime minister's questions in the Commons on Wednesday.
In January, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith sparked controversy after admitting in a newspaper interview that she felt unsafe walking alone in London at night.
Ms Smith later played down the comments, saying London's streets were "safer now than they have been at any point".