PM forces disabled man to walk

01:43, Jan 31 2009

A partially sighted Christchurch man with Parkinson's disease was forced to struggle down the street to his car after Prime Minister Helen Clark's security commandeered parking spaces.

Clark was "very shocked" by the incident, and police have apologised.

Clark's security meant Elizabeth Winkworth was unable to park outside the Christchurch Town Hall to pick up her husband, Marshall Leaf, 81, after a performance by the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra on Friday night last week.

The pick-up area outside the Town Hall was cordoned and two cars were waiting for Clark. When Winkworth tried to park nearby she was twice moved on by police.

She had to park about 200m away and help her husband to the car.

Winkworth said the walk was a struggle for her husband. "It was horrible," she said. "I thought it was absolutely unacceptable.

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"The 200m walk took about 10 minutes and was about his limit. The streets were wet and I was very worried about him slipping."

Winkworth was frustrated that the pick-up area was cordoned long before Clark emerged from the Town Hall.

"That was one of the things that annoyed me the most. The cars were sitting there with no-one around. We could have used that area."

Leaf said: "I personally felt a little bit upset about it. I thought, `Good heavens, is she increasing her bureaucracy?"'

Winkworth wanted to thank the Town Hall ushers for helping her husband back to the car.

"The ushers are the most caring and helpful band of women I have ever come across," she said.

A spokesman for Clark said she would seek an explanation from police over the incident.

"The Prime Minister was very shocked to hear about what happened. She had not been aware of the incident until The Press contacted her office.

"She will be seeking an explanation from police and also requesting that such a thing does not happen again," the spokesman said.

Canterbury police district commander Dave Cliff apologised.

"I am sorry (they) were inconvenienced by the security provided for the Prime Minister. We endeavour to minimise any difficulties to the public and I am sorry she became caught up in the security arrangements," he said.

Clark's security is provided by the Diplomatic Protection Squad, with assistance from local police.

The Dominion Post