Police chief in rethink on major events

THE Lan Kwai Fong tragedy has forced an end to the era of police ''accommodation'' of large-scale events, which could mean temporary bans on drinking in public and the use of spray foam, a senior police officer said yesterday.

Assistant Commissioner Mr Brian Wigley, deputy director (operations), said his personal view was that Lan Kwai Fong was unsuitable for large events, such as the New Year's Eve incident which left 21 people dead.

However, a Lan Kwai Fong Association spokesman last night defended the area as a major venue, saying events needed to be properly managed and controlled instead.

Mr Wigley, who is compiling the force's internal investigation into crowd control measures, told Mr Justice Bokhary at an open Supreme Court hearing that police would likely limit access and numbers of people allowed in the area at certain times, controlling people through a one-way system.

Overseas approaches to crowd control were also being examined.

It was the third open hearing of Mr Justice Bokhary's independent inquiry, expected to be completed in two weeks.

Mr Wigley also backed Central and Western District Board calls for taking attractions, such as promotional stages and live countdowns, away from the street to keep regular bar-goers in and ''spectators'' out.

Police and district board members said many people arriving at Lan Kwai Fong around midnight had never been to the area before.

''We will need to depart from our attitudes of accommodation in coming events,'' Mr Wigley said.

''We have a very fine balance to draw being dictatorial and infringing on civil liberties.'' Central district commander, Superintendent Justin Cunningham, told Mr Justice Bokhary that he feared one-way systems, geared to prevent people moving up Lan Kwai Fong and down D'Aguilar Street, could prove impracticable to officers and revellers on the streets.

However, they were the the best approach if used in conjunction with measures to block access and limit crowds.

There was no doubt the sudden appearance of spray foams cans, touted by hawkers in Central and on Lan Kwai Fong earlier in the night, contributed to the disaster, forcing people to jostle and slip, he said.

Police were also planning command posts for big events looking out over the street above the crowds and wider use of loud-hailers, responding to criticism in Mr Justice Bokhary's interim report.

District Board member Mr Leung Ying-yeung told the hearing he had warned senior central district officers of the need for more manpower and stricter control after being trapped with his children for an hour by crowds on Halloween night.

cw-2 In the hour he was pinned at the intersection of Lan Kwai Fong and D'Aguilar streets, he saw about five people ''topple over'' under the weight of the 20,000 crowd, estimated to be slightly bigger than that of New Year's Eve.

cw1 The next day he said he told a senior Central District officer that he feared ''there might be people trampled to death in the future''.

The officer told him police were ''very experienced'' at crowd control.

After attending a Board meeting between Halloween and New Year, Superintendent Cunningham said he instructed senior officers drafting policing plans for New Year's Eve to act on members' directives for more police to be on hand.

Mr Justice Bokhary instructed District Board members to write a submission outlining what proposals had unanimous, majority and minority support, after hearing a range of opinions from five members yesterday.

Meanwhile, Mr Calvin Craig, immediate past-chairman of the Lan Kwai Fong Association, said he urged police to liaise with the association to hammer out a co-ordinated approach to arrangements, otherwise some bar owners would simply shut on big nights.