Deaths trigger concerns over police tasers


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The Independent Online

Concerns have been raised over the use of tasers and pepper spray by police after the deaths of three people in custody during the past eight days.

Last week, Cumbrian bodybuilder Dale Burns became the first person in Britain to die after being subdued by a police taser. Officers shot him three times with a 50,000-volt stun gun.

On Monday, 25-year-old amateur rugby enthusiast Jacob Michael collapsed and died after being hit in the face with pepper spray and subdued by up to 11 officers as he tried to avoid arrest for affray. The next night Greater Manchester Police officers used a taser to subdue Philip Hulmes, a 53-year-old trucker from Bolton, who had locked himself in his house with a knife. He had reportedly begun stabbing himself when police broke into his house; they stunned him because he was still violent, they said. He died in hospital. The Independent Police Complaints Commission is probing all three deaths.

Sophie Khan, a lawyer who represents several people who have been tasered, said: "There needs to be a recognition by the police following these deaths that tasers are a lethal weapon and should only be used in very limited circumstances, if at all."

The police insist tasers are a safer alternative to live ammunition in subduing violent or armed suspects.

The Assistant Chief Constable of Cheshire, Philip Thompson, urged calm after the death of Mr Michael in Widnes.

Mr Thompson, said that there was no evidence to suggest pepper spray had been the sole factor or indeed a contributory factor to Mr Michael "becoming unwell some time after his arrest or as a cause of his death".