Injured officer questions safety of CS spray

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The Independent Online
JASON BENNETTO

Crime Correspondent

A police training instructor who suffered 50 per cent burns from CS spray during trials has warned that it is not properly tested and could cause severe injuries to the public.

The comments by the Metropolitan Police inspector provides further ammunition for civil liberty groups who argue that not enough is known about the spray, which they believe could lead to deaths.

However, Chief Constables seem determined to press ahead with trials on the spray, which are expected to start among 2,500 officers from 18 forces as early as March. The move is a response to the increasing violent attacks against the police.

The injured inspector, who does not want to be named, told Police Review magazine: "It's obvious there's something wrong with the spray being trialled. I was subjected to a relatively small dose - less than would be used against a suspect in a real-life scenario.

"If I got burns to my eyes and head from that amount, what could be the implications for people who get more full in the face with their eyes open?"

During trials last June the officer was sprayed under controlled conditions for half a second - the recommended dose. He suffered 50 per cent burns to the cornea of one eye, 40 per cent to the other and burns to his forehead. He was taken to hospital after he collapsed and was in severe pain for several hours. His eyes were covered with patches for five days to allow the burns to heal.

He argued: "Whenever this issue comes up people say I suffered an allergic reaction. Well that's just not true - I was burnt. Since the incident I have not been contacted for an examination to see if I am someone who is more or less susceptible to this sort of reaction. That is pitiful and unprofessional. There is nothing in my physical make-up to make me prone to this."

He said the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) "rushed" to get the trials started and added: "The spray used on me was clearly not suitable." It is unclear whether he intends to take legal action, although he is keen that further research is carried out so that colleagues can be provided with the hand-held canisters, which have a range of about 3ft.

Following his experience, planned trials in 18 forces were halted; however, further police research has concluded that incorrect aftercare was primarily at fault rather than the CS itself. Acpo is therefore almost certain to give the go-ahead to new trials in more than one-third of the forces in England and Wales when it meets next week. The Home Office has already given its support.

CS is a white powder that is mixed with aerosol spray and affects the mucus-secreting areas of the face, causing watering eyes, sneezing, and coughing.

The police inspector also suggested that because of the long after-effects of the spray a suspect could not be questioned for some time once they were arrested. "I suffered shock, and it would have been a nightmare for our procedures if a prisoner was suffering to the extent I was, I am concerned that officers should have the proper equipment to protect themselves. But it must be thoroughly researched," he said.

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