By KEVIN TAYLOR
The Prime Minister's office yesterday cited police concern at a death threat to explain Helen Clark's high-speed motorcade dash through Canterbury on Saturday.
But senior police declined to pinpoint the threat as the reason behind the rapid journey from Waimate to Christchurch.
As political heat came on the Prime Minister over the speed of her trip, one of her spokesmen suggested police were worried for her safety after the arrest of a former policeman earlier that day.
But Assistant Commissioner Peter Marshall said the arrest had not been a factor in forming the motorcade that sped to Christchurch so Helen Clark could catch a flight to the Bledisloe Cup rugby game in Wellington.
Mr Marshall told the Herald: "The speed of the vehicles, whatever that might be at the end of the day ... was not directly linked to my knowledge in relation to the arrest of that individual."
The police officer in charge of the Prime Minister's Waimate visit, Inspector Dave Gaskin, said last night that there was a security risk.
He confirmed that those arranging policing for the visit had been made aware of the security threat earlier in the week.
Staffing levels were set based on that information. "That was why we had so many people there."
Mr Gaskin would not say if the security risk information had come from within South Canterbury or from other police sources.
Staff working in Waimate were made aware of the risk.
As he had been on leave until last Friday, Mr Gaskin said he could not comment on whether Saturday's programme had been altered once police became aware of the threat.
Armed police raided the Banks Peninsula home of former undercover officer Frank Louis Miessen, 46, on Saturday morning. He was released later that day on bail after being charged with various offences, including threatening to kill Helen Clark.
Drugs and firearms were reportedly found in the raid.
Last night, the spokesman for the Prime Minister said the arrest - including fears that Miessen had an "associate" - had been an "underlying concern" of police escorting her on the Waimate trip. The armed offenders squad had also been on standby.
Police have launched an investigation into the speed of the motorcade, which shocked some observers and provoked criticism that Helen clark had been racing to catch a plane to see the Wellington test after an earlier flight was cancelled.
Mr Marshall said the Transport Act allowed police to break the speed limit only if "life or property" were at risk and officers decided travelling in excess of the limits was vital.
He did not know how long the motorcade took to make the 200km trip, what time it arrived at Christchurch Airport, nor its speed on the way.
He said the inquiry, by Dunedin police inspector Dave Cliff, would be completed as quickly as possible. He did not rule out the possibility that the Prime Minister might be spoken to.
A police statement has already admitted the motorcade broke the speed limit.
Helen Clark said yesterday that she had not instructed the driver to speed.
"They take responsibility for the transport arrangements and it's not a matter that I've instructed them on."
Asked if she was aware the car may have been travelling at a potentially dangerous speed, she said: "I was pretty focused on what I was doing in the back seat, actually, so I think really questions like that should go to the police."
The Land Transport Safety Authority refused to comment yesterday on what effect the issue might have on its anti-speed campaign.
Speeds of more than 50km/h over the limit fall into the category of careless, dangerous or reckless driving, depending on the circumstances. As well as prosecution, offenders have their licence suspended immediately for 28 days.
On a visit yesterday to the Horowhenua and Kapiti Coast, where Helen Clark's car - registration plate CR1 - stuck so religiously to the speed limits that it frequently held up traffic, the motorcade was a talking point among locals.
At the Kapiti Village retirement complex, the women generally appeared less forgiving of the speeding than the men.
Retired school principal Frank Prankherd said "So what", while Labour supporter Alex Walker said, "You have got to get to the rugby".
His wife, Jean, thought the issue a bit ho-hum, but "she could have told them to slow down, I suppose".
* 2h 20min: Timaru courier firm obeying speed limits
* 80 to 120min: Reports of the Clark motorcade journey
At 80 minutes - 147km/h
At 120 minutes - 97.5km/h.
- additional reporting by Ruth Berry
By KEVIN TAYLOR