The use of CS spray by police officers was given the backing of Jack Straw, Home Secretary, yesterday, who said the device posed no significant health threat.
His comments follow the call by a coroner earlier this month to re-examine the use of CS after an inquest jury returned a verdict of unlawful killing on a man who died shortly after being sprayed.
Ibrahima Sey, 29, a Gambian asylum-seeker, was sprayed in the face with CS despite being surrounded by police officers and having his hands chained behind his back.
He died as a result of asphyxia due to the position in which he was restrained and because of a mental illness.
The case highlighted growing concerns that the solvent used in the spray was dangerous and the concentration of the CS could cause severe burning and breathing difficulties.
Most of the forces in Britain are now using the hand-held sprays, but two forces have refused because of concerns about the side-effects. Two Scottish police forces halted pilot studies of CS spray following the Sey inquest, but have since re-started them.
However Mr Straw, speaking at the Association of Chief Police Officers' autumn conference in Warwick, said: "I have read all of the pathologist's reports and other medical and toxicological evidence submitted to the Ibrahima Sey inquest.
"The coroner's recommendations might lead one to think that the inquest had seen evidence which cast doubts on the acceptability of CS spray but I am satisfied this is not the case.
"There is nothing in the evidence to suggest that CS and the solvent MIBK, separately or in combination, present any significant threat to human health."
He added: "Police officers deserve the best protection that we can provide."
Mr Sey was arrested in March last year and taken to Ilford police station, east London, where a struggle broke out in which the 18-stone Mr Sey was forced to the ground and handcuffed. The struggle continued with up to eight officers and a woman police officer 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.
Dr Harold Price, the coroner, 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."
Lee Jasper, vice chairman of the National Assembly Against Racism, yesterday attacked Mr Straw's decision. "It's absolutely ludicrous. The British police are using spray five times greater in strength than the police in the United States. Even after a serious incident such as the death of Mr Sey it's still considered to be safe."Reuse content