Police defend use of pepper spray at Open

Victoria Police vigorously defended its use of pepper spray on a section of the crowd at the Australian Open tennis on Tuesday night, saying its officers had feared for their own safety.

Three people were arrested and charged with offences relating to assaulting police, resisting arrest and failing to obey the lawful instructions of the police force.

The three were all banned for the duration of the tournament, while seven others were affected by what police called a ”secondary dose” of the spray and were later evicted.

At a news conference on Wednesday, held on the banks of the Yarra River outside the Australian Open grounds, Superintendent John Cooke defended his officers.

”The use of the capsicum spray, I am quite confident was appropriately used,” he told reporters.

”It had got to the point where these people were threatening the physical safety of our members.

”Our members are not punching bags. We are not there to be the sport of people who want to be unruly or want to cause trouble to the rest of the event. The use of the capsicum spray was in direct response to the threat that our members were under.

”The members were threatened, a punch was thrown at one of the members and there is some footage of one of our members being manhandled. The members themselves were of the opinion that they were about to be assaulted and have deployed the spray.”

Drunken condition

Cooke told Reuters that the three people arrested were Australians of Greek descent, while some of the seven people who received the secondary dose of spray will also be interviewed by police after CCTV footage has been reviewed.

The trouble erupted during a match between Fernando Gonzalez of Chile and Konstantinos Economidis, a Greek qualifier on Margaret Court Arena.

The match was stopped for around 10 minutes as the fans were removed from the stadium by police.

”The [spraying] was not something that police resorted to as a first resort,” Cooke said, adding that they had watched the crowd for about 10 minutes before taking action, returning with reinforcements after their requests to calm down had been refused.

”At that point, one of the spectators fell over a number of seats in a drunken condition and was removed,” Cooke said.

”This appears to have been a trigger for a number of spectators to come forward and threaten the group, in all there were about 10.

”Unfortunately the situation escalated to the point where the members had feared for their safety and had to deploy a capsicum spray to deal with the situation.”

Cooke said the spectators causing trouble had been a small part of a group of about 110 fans supporting Economidis.

Eyewitnesses described the atmosphere as a cross between Davis Cup tennis and a soccer match.

”It was upsetting, I’ve never seen anything like it in my life at a tennis match,” Stephen Butterick, a BBC Radio producer said.

”We were watching Gonzalez, and suddenly, I don’t know why, a policeman appeared.

”He tried to get someone and that stage there were two policemen. The other lads got up and started pushing and shoving and he [the policeman] sprayed some kind of mace spray.”

Tournament director Craig Tiley told reporters he had full confidence in the police and believed they had acted correctly.

”We said from the beginning that we would not accept the behaviour that is going to disturb and disrupt the others. We work in close partnership with the Victoria police and in the actions they take,” he said. – Reuters

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