A leading figure in the notorious Red Squad has admitted lying to an internal police investigation into the bashing of three Springbok Tour protesters dressed as clowns.

Speaking just before the 30th anniversary of the divisive 1981 tour, Ross Meurant told the Weekend Herald that he fooled an identity parade by bringing in an outside officer disguised to look like the prime suspect. Meurant was the senior sergeant in the specially trained riot group and has previously denied any knowledge about the alleged assaults by Red Squad members outside Eden Park on September 12, 1981.

The "Clowns incident" became the most infamous event in a period of violent civil unrest, when two men and a woman were batoned by police officers on Dominion Rd - leaving the woman unconscious.

A high-level police inquiry was launched, but Red Squad closed ranks and the identity of the officers responsible remains a mystery.

Until now, Meurant has denied any knowledge that Red Squad was even involved. In an interview about the Springbok tour, which began on July 19, 1981, Meurant still defends the Red Squad but admits he lied to the internal investigation.

"Contrary to previous denials by me that I knew anything about this incident - of course I knew. I was the Squad Commander for goodness sake.

"During the tour and subsequent to the tour, I told lies to police inquisitors intent on nailing at least one Red Squad member for an assault. There was no way in a million years I would have sacrificed one of my troops to the guillotine. This is what one does when 'Deep in the Forest'. One looks after one's mates."

Meurant said the internal police investigation, led by Chief Superintendent Jim Morgan, "went out of their way to get Red Squad".

"For me, it then became a matter of [fighting] fire with fire."

He described how early in 1982, the squad was ordered to take part in another informal identification parade, by running around the Auckland waterfront.

Squad members were ordered to run in pairs, 10m apart, along Hobson Bay where "clowns" and other witnesses were placed at strategic positions. Meurant said the identification parade was "illegal". So he condoned the inclusion of a constable who was very similar in appearance to the Red Squad member suspect.

"The purpose of the intruder was to hopefully confuse 'The Clowns'. So careful were our preparations that the Red Squad suspect shaved off his moustache [which had been an identifying characteristic according to The Clowns] while the intruder deliberately retained his moustache.

"What real value is served today by trying to put before the courts a young man who in the circumstances of total riot, may have been justified in lashing out with his PR 24 [baton]as Red Squad moved forward to clear the sector?"

While the internal investigation failed to draw conclusions, the Clowns incident led to a civil trial where the police department was sued for exemplary damages. Each clown received $10,000.

Justice Pritchard said despite discrepancies in the witness accounts, all agreed it was a brutal attack in which repeated police blows rained down on helpless victims.