Condon confesses Jiang visit tactics not 'totally right'

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Sir Paul Condon, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, admitted yesterday that his force's controversial handling of the state visit by China's president Jiang Zemin was not "totally right". He also pledged to investigate whether there was any government interference in police tactics during last week's visit and admitted that there was understandable public "unease" at the treatment of protesters.

Sir Paul Condon, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, admitted yesterday that his force's controversial handling of the state visit by China's president Jiang Zemin was not "totally right". He also pledged to investigate whether there was any government interference in police tactics during last week's visit and admitted that there was understandable public "unease" at the treatment of protesters.

Sir Paul's comments came as the Home Office revealed that the controversial police tactic of parking vans in front of demonstrators, to block President Jiang's view of them, had not been used in any other state visit over the previous seven years.

As far as Sir Paul was aware, the tough tactics had not been asked for by government officials, but he promised that his force's internal review would investigate the matter. He said there were a number of meetings involving officials from the Home Office and Foreign Office about security arrangements for the four-day visit.

The force was criticised by human rights groups, who were trying to draw attention to China's abuses in Tibet, for shielding Jiang. But Sir Paul said the clampdown was, in part, because protest groups had not co-operated with police.

He said protesters being "wrestled to the ground" was "not a pretty sight" but he insisted: "If anyone had broken through [barriers] and caused damage or danger to Her Majesty the Queen or her visitor then, quite properly, we would have been severely criticised." He added: "I'm not saying we got it totally right."

Sir Paul said there were no instructions to officers to take protesters' flags or block their view, but he promised a police review would look into what had happened. "The public unease is an unease shared by us," he said. "I sensed the public unease through the days," he went on.

In a written parliamentary reply, Home Office minister Charles Clarke said the Chinese state visit was the only time the tactic of using vans to block out protesters had been used during Sir Paul Condon's seven-year tenure. He listed three times police vans were used in this way. "On one occasion, demonstrators had taken up a position without prior arrangement with police; on a second, missiles were thrown; and on a third demonstrators broke through crowd control barriers".

Ministers have also confirmed that meetings took place between Chinese Embassy, civil servants and the Metropolitan police, before the visit.

Meanwhile, human rights protesters claimed they had evidence of "international collusion" between police forces to suppress anti-Jiang demonstrations. In a joint statement, the pro-Tibetan activists said police in Britain, France, Australia and New Zealand all used similar tactics to block protests.

"The conclusion we draw is that these events were politically motivated. We infer that the Chinese... successfully influenced our governments... "

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