MR Justice Bokhary has called for firmer and wider use of existing police powers to prevent ''deadly'' gatherings of people threatening a repeat of the Lan Kwai Fong tragedy. He criticised police for inadequately assessing the difficulty posed by the unlimited crowd on New Year's Eve and said officers had the right to control access in public places if safety was at risk. Quoting the Public Order Ordinance, the Police Force Ordinance and the Bill of Rights, Mr Justice Bokhary said an individual's fundamental rights included the ''right to life''. ''The danger to be avoided is a deadly one to each and every person concerned,'' he said in the preliminary findings of the independent inquiry. The inquiry was ordered by the Governor, Mr Chris Patten, after the deaths of 21 people in a crush just after midnight on January 1. ''One of the paramount duties of the police is to preserve human life,'' Mr Justice Bokhary said. ''What must be avoided is a situation where people are . . . so densely packed that there is a real risk of a human pile-up. ''There is a range of danger. Nothing with that range, even at the lower end of it, is acceptable.'' Mr Justice Bokhary noted the police set themselves a tragically difficult task in controlling an unlimited crowd on New Year's Eve. A person in a wheelchair and a couple pushing a baby in a pram were the only people in a crowd of 15,000 to 20,000 revellers to be turned away. He described the police's tolerance as ''well-intentioned''. The findings may affect an unrelated Security Branch liberalisation of the controversial Public Order Ordinance, which seeks to weaken the power of the Police Commissioner to control public gatherings. Police welcomed the findings, noting they represented a change in the ''philosophy of tolerance'' employed at previous gatherings. But the force moved quickly last night to reject one of the finding's key recommendations, saying it was not always possible to place officers within Hongkong crowds. The first recommendation of the 50-page report is a three-point plan to ensure maximum safety with minimum disruption to the public. Mr Justice Bokhary urged police to limit the size of the crowd according to the area, allowing them to manage it with reasonable ease but keeping police intervention within the ''minimum consistent with safety'' and maintaining a capacity for ''speedy and effective intervention at a high level''. ''It has to be recognised that in conditions of overcrowding [of the scale of] the Lan Kwai Fong tragedy, things can go fatally wrong in any number of ways. ''The only safe course is to prevent such conditions from arising in the first place,'' he said. Police should class any assembly ''dangerously over-crowded'' when officers were unable to move among the crowd freely on foot, he said. ''If they cannot do that then it is difficult to see how they can effectively discharge their crowd control duty or indeed their general duty of watch and ward,'' he said. ''The beginning of the erosion of that mobility would be a sign that a crowd is in the process of swelling to dangerous proportions.'' Such a build-up should alert police to start turning people away by using barriers, loud-hailers and pre-arranged control points. Within hours of the report's release, force spokesman Chief Superintendent Eric Lockeyear rejected the call to place officers within all crowds to conduct the ''Bokhary density test''. Superintendent Lockeyear said it would not be practical in huge crowds such as the one expected to gather on the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront for this Sunday's Lunar New Year fireworks. ''In the ideal situation it is good to have officers in the crowd, but in Hongkong that's not always possible,'' he said. ''For the Tsim Sha Tsui fireworks we're expecting a crowd of about 500,000, which will be 10 deep in places - clearly it's not always possible. ''We have got to use other methods of control.'' Police accepted the report in general, saying it closely mirrored their own investigations, particularly the full use of equipment such as loud-hailers, increased publicity and a firmer policy towards countering threats to public safety. ''Hongkong has to expect further action,'' Superintendent Lockeyear said. ''Our philosophy of tolerance has changed, the balance between the public's safety and freedoms has changed. ''We urge people to accept that and co-operate in these situations in the future.'' Mr Justice Bokhary said he ''paused long'' before making recommendations for the police to restrict access to public places if need be. He noted the need for a balance between public safety and freedoms. ''But at the end of the day, having struck the balance I can, I make my recommendation in that regard without any remaining reservation,'' he said. He noted the area of the Public Order Ordinance which allowed an officer of inspector rank or above to fully control or stop any public gathering, other than a religious assembly, if he ''reasonably'' believed it could cause a breach of the peace. Reference is also made to the Bill of Rights, with Article 17 recognising the right to peaceful assembly, but restricting that right when public safety was at risk. Fight Crime Committee member Mr Justein Wong said he agreed the police could not avoid the responsibility for crowd control. He said, however, that if the police tried to limit crowds entering or leaving a particular public area, it could at times cause conflict and anger among the crowd. ''The actual situation may not allow such limits,'' he said. Mr Wong also worried that the police might be accused of infringing human rights if they attempt to limit access to public gatherings. He called on Mr Justice Bokhary to offer clear guidelines as to when it would be permissible to limit public gatherings. It would be unfair to ask the policeman on the scene to make the decision, he said. ''Each situation should be examined on its merits,'' Mr Wong said. ''It depends on the given situation. I think we should not jump to conclusions that the police automatically should do this.'' But Legco Security Panel member and United Democrats of Hongkong spokesman on security, Mr James To Kun-sun, said that while the matter needed careful examination, one had to distinguish between a large crowd gathering for a celebration and a protest march where police restrictions under the Public Order Ordinance could be criticised as an infringement of human rights. ''If you take a protest outside the NCNA [New China News Agency], they are not using danger to public safety as a reason. They never even give a reason,'' he said. ''I think that's a political reason, not crowd control.'' But Mr To said he tended to agree with Mr Justice Bokhary's ''reluctant recommendation'' that the police should have the power to control crowds for safety reasons. But he also stressed the need for guidelines. There should be a standard by which the police could judge what constituted dangerous overcrowding, not only in public places, but in such private premises such as department stores, he said. Mr Justice Bokhary, looking weary, said later he hoped to focus in greater detail on all aspects of his preliminary findings in the final report, which could be completed within four weeks. He said it was not in his terms of reference to find blame and responsibility and urged people to read all of the report before making such judgements. ''The focus now must be on prevention. We can't bring back the dead,'' he said. In his report, Mr Justice Bokhary extends personal condolences to the families of the victims and praises the efforts of the police, firefighters ambulance officers and the public in the rescue bid. Only one victim remained in hospital last night. The condition of 35-year-old Mr Tam Yee-hung, who was first admitted in critical condition at Queen Mary Hospital, was described as satisfactory. MAIN POINTS AT A GLANCE Mr Justice Bokhary's six recommendations were: Police should take ''all reasonable steps'' to prevent dangerous over-crowding at major festivals, identifying the times and places of greatest build-up and threat. A publicity campaign be mounted to tell the public that police will, whenever and wherever their safety is threatened, divert them to less crowded areas. The campaign should also explain why such moves are necessary and call for understanding and co-operation. A high-level police study into what lesson can be learned from Lan Kwai Fong, other than the need to control the size of the crowd, to be expanded after the Lunar New Year celebrations. Police should work closely with those addressing the general social problem of underage drinking (in Lan Kwai Fong and elsewhere) and at the time study it as a crowd control problem during festivals. Licensing authorities should scrutinise entertainment licences with ''increased care'' whenever such an event could lead to crowd problems. Organisers and police should give careful consideration to requesting standby help from the Auxiliary Medical Services, the Civil Aid Services and the St John Ambulance Brigade. Mr Justice Bokhary said he wished to offer the only comfort he could: ''The doctors say that loss of consciousness would have come mercifully quickly. And the police officers involved in the rescue say that the faces of the victims looked peaceful.'' He added: ''Each and every one who has come forward has been of help to me in reaching my findings and assessment. And they have my thanks.''