CS spray `attacks' on mentally ill spark curb calls

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WELFARE GROUPS have demanded new guidelines to control the use of CS spray by police on the mentally ill after complaints that the weapon is being used indiscriminately.

The National Schizophrenic Fellowship and the British Association of Social Workers have called for new instructions to be issued. The Mental Health Act Commission is also looking at the issue. The Independent has learnt of two cases in which the weapon was used to overpower psychologically disturbed people.

A headmistress from Cambridgeshire, has complained that her son - who cannot be named for legal reasons - was treated like a criminal. He was having psychological problems, but refused to go to hospital and did not co-operate with social workers called to help him, she said.

"He wasn't violent in any way, but he didn't want to go to hospital. Because he was ill he didn't understand he needed help. Then the police came. Three of them went right up to my son and one of them said he had to go to hospital and that there was `an easy way and a hard way'.

"My son, who was still lying down, mumbled something incoherent, as he tends to do when he is ill. He jerked away when one of the officers tried to grab him. Instantly and from a very short distance, another officer fired this spray straight into my son's face while he was still on the sofa. He jumped up, blinded and in a panic.

"They then grabbed him and eventually manhandled him outside after a struggle. He was put face down in the corner of the garden with his hands handcuffed behind his back."

The family's solicitor, Peter Gourri, said: "We hope to issue proceedings next week." A complaint was also made to the Police Complaints Authority. A spokeswoman for Cambridge Police said she was unable to comment on the case.

In a similar incident in Hampshire, a mentally ill man was sprayed when police arrived to take him to hospital in Southampton. His mother said: "They made no attempt to talk to him at all. Three policemen came into the house, took him outside and he was sprayed."

A Hampshire police spokesman said: "We were called to an address to prevent a breach of the peace. We had no way of knowing that the man we found suffered from mental illness. He became violent, attacking police officers, and CS spray had to be used to bring him under control."