Eye injury halts police trials into CS gas spray

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The Independent Online

Crime Correspondent

Trials into the routine use of CS spray by police have been postponed after an instructor's eyes were burnt by the gas during initial tests.

The hospitalisation of the training officer even before the gas is tested in street trials has thrown into question the future of the substance as a safe police tool.

Although some critics have argued that not enough is known about the side effects of the CS spray the Home Office insists that it is "tried and tested". Trials in 18 police forces in England and Wales were due to start next month, but they have now been delayed until an investigation has been completed into the recent injury.

The hand-held sprays are to be worn by patrol officers on their belts. The Home Office announced the trials as part of the police's growing armoury against the rise in violent crime. There is pressure on the Government to provide police with extra protection against armed offenders.

The Metropolitan Police instructor suffered burns to his eyes after being sprayed by a CS incapacitant during a routine test in Northampton three weeks ago. Details of the incident have only just been released. He needed hospital treatment but has made a full recovery and has returned to duty. He was part of a group of officers being trained as instructors for the trials.

Inspector Pete Boatman, who was training the instructors when the incident happened, told Police Review magazine: "We want to be absolutely sure we've got it right before the sprays are used in public. We have to be 100 per cent sure what the effects will be.

"There will be no more training now until we know what we're doing is spot on."

CS spray causes watering eyes, sneezing and coughing. There was particular concern about its use on people suffering from breathing problems such as asthma.

Alastair Hay, reader in chemical pathology at Leeds University and a world authority on the effects of chemical weapons, said he had "mixed feelings'' about the tests. "There is not as much research on CS gas as there ought to be," he said.

Members of the Association of Chief Police Officers self-defence, arrest and restraint sub committee, and the Police Scientific Development Branch are now carrying out an investigation into the accident.