Police patrol officers are likely to be armed with CS gas sprays by the summer as part of a national trial aimed at stemming the rising toll of injuries sustained in the line of duty.
The news emerged as a chief constable called for greater protection for officers, after four were injured in two separate attacks by armed gangs in Birmingham. In one case a policewoman had her skull fractured with an iron bar.
In another incident yesterday, four people were stabbed at a job centre in Kent - including one man left with a carving knife embedded in his head - when a woman went on the rampage.
The use of CS sprays on the streets of Britain will be discussed at a meeting of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) in three weeks' time. Members are expected to give the go-ahead to street trials of hand-held spray canisters, carried on an officer's belt, that can incapacitate an attacker within seconds.
Trials were planned in 18 police forces last year but serious problems cast doubt on the future of such sprays. Initial testing was halted when a Metropolitan Police instructor needed hospital treatment for burns to his eyes after being sprayed by CS gas.
Civil liberties groups have argued that not enough is known about the side-effects of sprays and that their use might be gratuitous in many circumstances.
However, a report by ACPO's Self Defence, Arrest, and Restraint sub-committee will tell this month's meeting of police chiefs that the problems encountered last year have now been overcome.
Street trials are expected to start in the summer after the retraining of officers. The light-weight 3in-long canisters have a range of around 3ft.
CS is a white powder which affects the tear glands and mucus-secreting areas of the face, causing watering eyes, sneezing, and coughing.
Ann Widdecombe, Home Office Minister, said yesterday that the need for police to be issued with an incapacitant spray was widely accepted, and suggested it was up to chief constables to get them tobeat officers. She said: "I am keen they should be made available."
The use of "pepper" sprays was effectively shelved after a Home Office study warned that people with breathing problems and pregnant women could be at danger. In the past year, officers have been given new, longer batons and many forces provide officers with protective vests.
Police chiefs yesterday pointed to the two attacks in Birmingham as clear examples of the need for further protection. In the early hours, during a call to a suspected burglary in Birmingham, PC Vanessa Greening, 22, was hit over the head with an iron bar as she went to help 30-year- old PC Jon Jackson, who was lying unconscious after being struck with a sledgehammer.
PC Greening was recovering in hospital yesterday and PC Jackson received six stitches to an arm wound.
Sir Ronald Hadfield, the Chief Constable of West Midlands Police, said: "My fear is that it will take the death of an officer before measures are taken to give my officers protection. The only answer in the slow march towards arming all police is the introduction of some form of incapacitator such as CS gas or pepper."
Sir Ronald said extra protection was needed for the police because assaults on officers were up five per cent on last year. He pointed to the current nationwide knives amnesty as evidence of the growing problem posed by violence. He also referred to the attack at a Birmingham supermarket five days ago, in which ten people were seriously injured by a man who ran amok with three knives.
In the second incident in Birmingham yesterday, two officers received injuries when they were attacked by a five-man gang brandishing knives, including a 7in blade.
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