Page last updated at 18:40 GMT, Tuesday, 21 April 2009 19:40 UK

Minister is 'proud' of G20 police

Police in riot gear
Police have been criticised for some of their handling of the G20 protests

Home Office minister Lord West has defended G20 police saying: "I think we should be extremely proud of them."

He said he did not want to "excuse" any "criminal acts" under investigation.

But in general UK police tactics were better than "water cannon, baton rounds or shooting people - all of which seem to occur in some other countries".

He spoke after the actions of some G20 officers were branded "unacceptable" by the incoming Chief Inspector of Constabulary Denis O'Connor.

Lord West, speaking in the House of Lords, said "thousands of officers acted absolutely professionally and proportionately, thousands were actually able to demonstrate peacefully on our streets, criminal activity in the rest of the metropolis was kept to an absolute minimum and the police also maintained high levels of security.

"And I think we should be extremely proud of them. This does not excuse acts which are criminal and there are now investigations taking place for those particulars."

He also defended British police tactics of confronting protesters face-to-face, arguing alternative crowd control methods were worse.

He told peers: "I have to say I do not like the thought of water cannon, baton rounds or shooting people all of which seem to occur in some other countries and I am jolly glad I live in this country. But all of those things will be looked at."

'Noble cause'

Any changes in guidance to police would apply to the whole of the UK, he added.

Mr O'Connor, a former senior officer in the Metropolitan Police, is conducting an inquiry into police public order tactics in the wake of the G20 protests.

He told the home affairs committee he was concerned about footage of apparent police brutality.

Denis O'Connor: 'It is simply very clear cut'

"My concern was obviously about the individual incidents where officers, on the face of it, appeared to break with their colleagues and assault people.

"We in this country expect the very best from our police, quite properly, and police officers who give their lives - as Gary Toms did, sadly, very recently (PC Toms died last week after trying to stop a fleeing vehicle) - they do it for a very noble cause.

"So when you see something that does not square with that noble cause, it is disappointing and hugely concerning."

He added: "What I saw was unacceptable."


He also told the committee it was "unacceptable" for officers to hide their identifying badges from the public, as some are alleged to have done.

He said police officers had to be "accountable" to the public at all times and there could be no excuses for not showing their badge numbers.

He was investigating reports some officers had removed their numbers or even refused to give them when asked by members of the public "when it's the last thing you would expect to occur, particularly in those particularly circumstances".

And he said his probe would look at whether all officers should be forced to wear name badges, which are currently not compulsory.

Constables and sergeants are currently meant to display their numbers but senior ranks are not.

'British way'

Mr O'Connor will also look at the widely differing tactics used by police forces in dealing with public order situations, from the "kettling" - or holding people in a confined area - seen at the G20 to the lighter touch used during the Tamils protest in Parliament Square.

He said there had been no advance intelligence on violent protests ahead of the Tamil demonstration.

On the G20 protest, he said the incident in which an officer slapped Nicola Fisher and hit her with his baton was "unacceptable" adding: "What I saw did not impress me that it's the British way."

Mr O'Connor is Home Secretary Jacqui Smith's preferred candidate to be the next Chief Inspector of Constabulary, although his appointment has to be confirmed by the home affairs committee.

His interim report is due by end of June, with the final report to be published in September.

Nick Hardwick, chairman of the Independent Police Complaints Commission IPCC, told the committee he had received 185 complaints from G20 protests, including more than 50 complaints from members of the public who say they were assaulted or witnessed an assault.

Mr Hardwick, who was accused later on Tuesday by the Police Federation of running a "witch-hunt" against G20 officers, said the IPCC received twice as many complaints from the 2001 Countryside Alliance protests.

'Ugly' scenes

But he said the severity of the G20 complaints and injuries alleged is greater - although the difference may be accounted for by the presence of "citizen journalists" with mobile phone cameras at the G20 protest.

"One of the consequences of this exposure through citizen journalism is that we will all see much more clearly what it is - and sometimes it looks ugly - what we expect the police to do," he told MPs.

Later the IPCC said it had received 185 complaints about the G20 protests, more than 40 of which were not eligible, more than 50 were about police tactics and more than 80 of which were from people claiming to have seen or experienced excessive force by police officers.

Mr Hardwick said there was a need for police to explain better so-called "distraction" techniques they are trained to use in violent confrontations, which he said was a "euphemism" for "kicking, hitting, punching".

It "looks ugly" on the television - but police are trained to use these techniques as long as the force used is reasonable and proportionate and they should not "wash their hands" of this fact.

Mr Hardwick said he made the decision to do a "rigorous, hands-on" assessment of Mr Tomlinson's death to see if he came into contact with the police before he collapsed.

The evidence initially was that there was not any contact, so at first the IPCC decided not to conduct an independent investigation.

He said the police should not have rushed out a statement under media pressure to say there had been no contact with Mr Tomlinson but he was not surprised they did as "they have done it before".

He also owned up to a "mistake", after misunderstanding a briefing, when he said there was no CCTV in the area where Mr Tomlinson collapsed.

A policeman has been interviewed under caution on suspicion of manslaughter after new tests overturned the initial post-mortem into the cause of Mr Tomlinson's death.

Mr Tomlinson, 47, was filmed being struck and pushed over by a police officer. A fresh post-mortem examination found he died of abdominal bleeding, not a heart attack, as first thought.

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