Police baton blow blamed for man's death

The police were criticised yesterday for lacking training in the use of the new, long batons, after an inquest decided that a boxing promoter who died after being struck over the head with the weapon had been lawfully killed.

It emerged also that there has been an increase in complaints about officers using the American-style batons. The Police Complaints Authority, which has expressed concern over the lack of training, believes officers are more willing to use the modern weapons than the old-style truncheons because they are more effective.

The comments follow a verdict of "misadventure" by nine of the 11 jury members at the inquest of Brian Douglas, 33, who died in police custody last May. Family and friends of Douglas were described as "distraught" after the decision at Southwark Crown Court in London. They pledged to fight the verdict.

Police said Douglas's death was a tragedy, but added that the introduction of the baton had helped to reduce serious injuries to officers.

Douglas sustained fatal head injuries after being stopped in his car for alleged bad driving in Clapham, south London.

Two police officers, Pc Mark Tuffey and Pc Paul Harrison, said Pc Tuffey had used the baton in self-defence, because Douglas had possessed a canister of CS gas and a knife. Douglas, the first person whose death was linked to the new baton, suffered "massive and irreversible" brain damage and died in hospital five days later.

Pc Tuffey told the inquest he had aimed a blow at Douglas's upper arm, but it slid over his shoulder and hit his neck.

Several eyewitnesses told the inquest they had seen the officer strike a downward blow to Douglas's head. Three pathologists gave evidence that the fatal blow had been to the back, right-hand side of the head.

At the end of the three-week hearing, Sir Montague said: "There is a need for all officers who have been trained to use a baton to be taught the specific dangers, the after-effects and potential signs and symptoms that can follow a baton blow to the head." He urged police to tighten procedures for identifying injured people in custody after Douglas spent several hours in a police cell before being taken to hospital.

More than 20,000 Metropolitan Police officers are armed with 22in, 24in and 26in acrylic batons, which were introduced in November 1994.

The Metropolitan Police said they would consider the issue of training in the next few weeks.

Donald Douglas, Brian's brother, said the family was considering a private prosecution and a judicial review.

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