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Call for CS spray inquiry after death verdict

A jury brought a verdict of unlawful killing on a handcuffed man who died shortly after being sprayed in the face by a police officer with CS spray. Jason Bennetto, Crime Correspondent, looks at the implications.

An urgent inquiry into the safety of CS spray, at present used by most police forces in Britain, was urged by a coroner yesterday, following the latest death in custody.

An unlawful killing verdict was brought in the case of Ibrahima Sey, 29, who died soon after being sprayed in the face with CS despite being surrounded by police officers and having his hands chained behind his back.

This brought an immediate response from two Scottish forces, Easterhouse and Dundee, who have suspended trials of the spray. Government lawyers will now decide whether to bring a criminal prosecution against any of the Metropolitan Police officers involved.

Mr Sey, a mentally ill father of two, was arrested in March last year after his wife called the police to their home.

He was taken to Ilford police station, east London, where a struggle broke out and the 18-stone Mr Sey was forced to the ground and handcuffed. The struggle continued with up to eight officers and PC Jackie Cannon sprayed him in the face from about six feet. Mr Sey was then taken to a custody suite, laid face down on the floor and searched until one officer realised he had stopped breathing.

The jury at Snaresbrook, east London, who returned a 7-2 majority verdict of unlawful killings, heard that Mr Sey died as a result of asphyxia due to being restrained and because of a mental illness known as excited delirium. The coroner said reports suggested the CS spray was not the cause of death.

Dr Harold Price, the coroner, said there was an urgent need to examine the use of CS and the solvent with which it was mixed to make the spray.

He said: "The use of CS spray should be reviewed by all police forces. The guidelines for its use in the first place and the verbal warning given should be explored."

Since the introduction of CS sprays in August last year there have been growing concerns about the safety of the hand-held devices which cause streaming eyes and nose and breathing difficulties. Two chief constables are refusing to arm their officers with CS spray because of the possible side- effects.

But a spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers said last night that they had no plans to review the use of CS spray, which he said had greatly reduced the number of attacks on officers and the public. Scotland Yard, however, is now examining the use of CS following the inquest.

Mr Sey's widow, Amie, said yesterday: "I knew these people killed him. He needed to be taken to hospital not for them to kill him. The verdict means justice but it will never repay the loss of my husband."

The CPS will now consider whether any police officers should be prosecuted. They are at present reconsidering decisions not to prosecute the officers involved in the deaths of Shiji Lapite, a Nigerian who died in north London in 1994, and Richard O'Brien, an Irishman who died in south London in the same year.