The senior officer brought in to conduct a wholesale review of the policing of large demonstrations has accused some force members of behaving “unacceptably” during the G20 protests and their aftermath.

His comments came as the Independent Police Complaints Commission said it was investigating more than 50 complaints from people who say they were assaulted or witnessed assaults at the demonstration.

Denis O’Connor, acting chief inspector of constabulary, said it was “utterly unacceptable” for police officers not to be displaying identification numbers – an accusation levelled at several officers.

He described some of the video footage of officers striking out at members of the public as appearing equally “unacceptable”, although he said he still needed to digest all the facts and that videos provided only a “snapshot”.

Appearing before MPs on the Commons home affairs committee on Tuesday, Mr O’Connor said: “My concern was obviously about individual incidents where officers on the face of it appear to break from colleagues and assault people.”

The IPCC is investigating three “serious” allegations – one involving newspaper seller Ian Tomlinson shortly before he died, and another involving a woman attending a memorial protest for the vendor the day after his death.

When questioned about footage showing a police officer hitting the woman with the back of his hand, then striking her with a baton, Mr O’Connor said: “It made me uncomfortable, very uncomfortable …But I have to unpick all of that and look at the whole picture.”

The G20 protests and video footage have raised questions about police tactics in controlling crowds.

Police chiefs have responded by saying the “British way” of policing large groups in close quarters is preferable to creating distance through water cannon, CS gas and rubber bullets.

Mr O’Connor lent support to calls from Nick Hardwick, head of the IPPC, for a national debate on tactics, arguing the police needed to balance the right of peaceful protest with property rights and the needs of the wider public.

He is reviewing the use of “ kettling”, where protesters are penned in. “London has in the past allowed more free movement at protests but then you had protesters running up Regent Street and people terrorised in shops.”

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