Animal rights protesters sue over police CS gas and baton attack

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Lawyers acting for protesters injured when police cleared an animal- rights rally have made formal complaints over the action, including the alleged indiscriminate use of the controversial CS spray.

The incident at Ross-on-Wye, near Hereford, three weeks ago, is believed to have been the first at which police have used the spray - introduced for personal protection - in a public-order situation. The police deny it was used indiscriminately and say it was for their officers' personal protection and safety.

Two demonstrators say they will sue Hereford and Worcester police for alleged assault. Others are believed to have consulted lawyers and the civil-liberties group Liberty. At least 12 demonstrators, mainly women, were affected by the spray and others claim they were hit by riot police wielding batons during the trouble at Consort Kennels which breeds beagles for vivisection.

Eyewitnesses claim officers fired the spray without warning above the heads of a crowd trying to stop a van carrying people who had been arrested. One middle-aged woman who suffers from severe arthritis and cancer claims a policeman hit her in the chest with a riot shield and then sprayed the liquid directly into her throat from a few inches in front of her face.

She was among eight people treated by paramedics at the scene. Twenty- three people were arrested after hundreds of protesters stormed the kennels in a vain bid to free the beagles. At one stage an angry crowd pelted police with bricks and stones.

At the time police confirmed that riot police and CS spray were used "to restore order ... after a majority of the protesters engaged in a violent attack on the premises and police officers". Now lawyers Dingle, Kingen and Co, representing Stephen Barrett and his fiancee, Melanie Roberts, from Merseyside, confirm they have lodged formal complaints.

Mr Barrett claims his fingers were broken after he was hit by a police baton and that he and his fiancee were sprayed with CS spray. He said: "I was not doing anything. I was standing by a gate and then the police charged out. I had my hands on the gate and suddenly a policeman whacked me across the knuckles with a baton ... then I felt this tingling and it was as if my eyes were on fire. I had not said anything and I certainly wasn't threatening anybody."

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