Olympic officials and police blame each other over torch relay farce

By Rob Singh and Matthew Beard

Olympic officials and the Metropolitan police are locked in a row over who was to blame for the torch relay farce which brought embarrassment to London.

Both sides claimed the other was in charge of the 31-mile parade through London which was supposed to be a celebration of this year's Games in Beijing and instead turned into a fiasco.

As many as 1,500 pro-Tibet demonstrators shadowed the relay over eight hours as it passed from Wembley to Greenwich through central London and past the 2012 Olympic site at Stratford.

A total of 37 people were arrested as the torch ended up being escorted by 10 blue-tracksuited Chinese security men, a phalanx of police wearing bicycle helmets and more specialist riot police in body armour - some of whom jogged the whole length of the route. Some of those taking part in the torch relay spoke of being terrified as protesters hurled abuse, while demonstrators claimed the police had been heavyhanded and failed to allow lawful protest. Commander Bob Broadhurst, the officer in charge of the route, had more than 1,000 officers at his disposal but consistently found them overstretched by the scale of the protests. He had been planning the event for a year with other senior Scotland Yard officers, officials from the Chinese embassy and 2012 organisers from City Hall. The London Olympics Organising Committee, which is headed by Lord Coe, was also involved in deciding the route.

Jiang Xiaoyu, executive vice-president of the Beijing Olympics Organising Committee, Bocog, was in London for the event and discussed with police whether to call it off.

He was said to be "severely embarrassed" by the farce. In China, spokesman for Bocog, said they were "disgusted" by what he described as "sabotage". Today police and the relay organisers blamed each other. Sources at Scotland Yard said all the decisions were made by Bocog and maintained the police only offered an advisory role on what the best course of action to take.

"We knew what the brief was, but the decision with regard to the route and the changes to how the torch was carried were not made by the police," a senior source said. "Any decision was going to be made to Bocog."

Mr Broadhurst said: "My log from yesterday is full of decisions where Bocog had made the call, not us. None of those decisions were made by us."

He said today that a review of security was made last week and senior officers, including the Met Commissioner, were happy with the policing plan.

He maintained that police had always anticipated the strength of protest and the numbers involved. But he added: "What I never expected was the level of determination to track the torch from Wembley to Greenwich."

Mr Broadhurst added there was no intelligence that protesters would take this form of action. "This was not planned. It was very spontaneous," he said. But the Chinese insisted they did not try to dictate policing for the relay and the responsibility of Chinese "flame attendants" was limited to protecting the flame and torchbearer with all other duties handled by the Met.

The Chinese had already been severely embarrassed when the "flame attendants" attacked pro-Tibet demonstrators in Athens. An event insider close to the organisers said today: "Bocog would seriously refute any claim that they were trying to call all the shots. The lesson was learned in Athens. The police were in charge. The buck stops with them."

One of the most embarrassing scenes came at St Paul's Cathedral, where cricketer Kevin Pietersen was prevented from getting off the open-top bus on which the flame was travelling to greet the Lord Mayor. Today neither side could even agree on who had stopped him getting off.

The Olympics insider said the police underestimated the persistence of the protesters. "There was a group of around 30 to 40 protesters who followed the relay the whole route and it was never clear when someone might jump out and have a go."

There was also disagreement over who was responsible for the route being so long.

It is believed that City Hall, as the main UK organisers and the London 2012 committee, Locog, wanted the relay to go through as many boroughs as possible to steer clear of the accusation that the 2012 Games are only focusing on east London.

Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell - who appeared on the streets of Downing Street with the torch but was almost elbowed out of the picture by the Chinese security men - also played a key part in the plan. The torch was due to arrive in Paris today where hundreds of police were deployed to prevent a repeat of the London scenes. Tory Metropolitan Police Authority member Richard Barnes called for a urgent review over how the Met police public order events. He said: "It all seemed to be a shambles. With 2,000 officers on the route keeping protesters at bay and somebody grabs the torch, it seems the result did not match up to the planning. Senior police in charged warned us that people trying to get to the torch will be stopped, but they were not. There has to be a failure somewhere." Commander Jo Kaye of the Met said "This was always going to be an interesting challenge, but it was also a public event.

"We needed a balance between this and total security. We knew that people wanted to try ad-hoc protests and that was always part of the policing plan to be prepared for that.

"As we clearly stated in advance of this event - we would facilitate lawful protest, which we have, but where people attempted to breach the safety, security and safe passage of the torchbearer and convoy, we would take appropriate and proportionate action. This we have done."

Police said today of the 37 arrests, three have been bailed pending further enquires and the remaining have either been cautioned, received a fixed penalty notice, or released with no further action.

Copyright © 2008 Evening Standard

Published in:
Evening Standard – /www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23475222-details/ Olympic+officials+and+police+blame+each+other+over+ torch+relay+farce/article.do

Photos by XXX