To some of those in command of our police force, 'I am sorry' are just three unspeakable words. Instead of apologising to the public, the police leadership has insisted it has done nothing wrong in drowning out protesters with classical music at an anti-Beijing demonstration marking the handover last year. Instead, the Commissioner of Police, Eddie Hui Ki-on, urged citizens to be 'forward-looking' and put the topic behind them. His assistant commissioner, Dick Lee Ming-kwai, harped on the same theme again on Friday. Mr Lee, who ordered Beethoven's Fifth Symphony to be played through loudspeakers, conceded there was a 'valuable lesson' to be drawn from the incident. Yet, he fell short of delivering a long-overdue public apology. He would only echo his boss' line. The police are apparently immune to public reaction. It has now been established that the police were inconsistent in their explanations as to why they broadcast the music - a tactic reminiscent of those used against communists in Hong Kong during colonial days. The only independent body to monitor the police, the Independent Police Complaints Council, upheld the complaints against the decision to drown out the protesters' chants. Hong Kong is one of the world's most forward-looking societies, but if the public is to get into the habit of turning a blind eye to matters of principle, we will soon find ourselves losing our sense of direction. Fortunately, the media do not seem to be as forgetful as the police would like them to be. Commercial Radio, for instance, commissioned an independent opinion poll on the issue. The survey, conducted by Hong Kong University's Social Sciences Research Centre, showed 49 per cent of respondents believed the police's contradictory statements had undermined its credibility. Only 16 per cent of the 518 interviewees believed the police did not need to take any remedial action over the decision. Thirteen per cent wanted the police to apologise. The findings were broadcast on its most popular breakfast talk show, Tea Cup In A Storm. Ming Pao carried a commentary by Baptist University lecturer, To Yiu-ming, dismissing Mr Lee's defence as nonsense. The article, 'Law enforcers should obey the law', was published the same day Mr Lee tried to put a lid on the open debate on his conduct, fuelling further concerns about how the police would handle protests in the future. Under the premise of maintaining law and order, Mr Lee said the police would 'seek to strike a balance between the interests and feelings of the protesters, members of the public and the guests'. The guests in question were visiting Chinese leaders, including President Jiang Zemin. This was the first time a police spokesman declared that the feelings of targets of a demonstration would be taken on board in deciding what kind of action police would take. The police owe the public an explanation as to why and, on what legal grounds, their role has been expanded to cover protecting the feelings of those in power. Mr Hui, who will be 55 in October, is reportedly poised to step down. Mr Lee is likely to be among the few to climb yet another rung of the ladder of police command. But the Beethoven issue will continue to haunt him for the rest of his career in the force. In 1827, Julius and Augustus Hare observed in Guesses at Truth that: 'To no kind of begging are people so averse, as to begging pardon; that is, when there is any serious ground for doing so.' The same can be said about our police force, hailed as 'Asia's finest'. Mr Hui and Mr Lee may have different readings of the public pulse, but this is one incident serious enough to warrant begging pardon.