Angry mental health campaigners have condemned police for using CS spray as a "chemical straitjacket" to subdue people with mental health problems. As a result, the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) says it is now willing to meet with them to discuss its use.
The Chief Constable of Staffordshire, John Giffard, who is also the chairman of Acpo's self defence, arrest and restraint committee, said: "Of course we want to do everything possible to minimise yet further the use of CS on mentally ill people, and we look forward to meeting both the authors of the Maudsley Hospital report, and the National Schizophrenic Fellowship (NSF), to see if anything more can be done to meet their concerns."
Ben Thomas, chief nursing advisor at the Maudsley Hospital, south London, one of the investigating team that exposed the misuse of CS spray on the mentally ill in a report earlier this month, welcomed the move. He said: "I am more than happy to meet and sort this matter out. We are not having a go at the police, but using CS spray on the mentally ill is not the right thing to do and we do need to minimise all future risk."
Cliff Pryor, the NSF chief executive, was equally enthusiastic. "This is good news. It is great to hear. Increasingly our members tell us that police officers are turning up ready to use CS, which is a real worry. When we get Acpo around the table we will tell them we believe the use of CS spray on the mentally ill should be banned."
But Chief Constable Giffard defended police officers, whom he said were trained to talk before they sprayed. However, the issuing of CS canisters to more than 100,000 police officers had been a great success, he believed. "CS spray is proving a highly effective incapacitant, and is beginning to lead to significant reductions in the number of officers being assaulted."
He added: "I am also aware of at least one case - and I believe there may be others - in which CS, as a less lethal option, was used by an officer armed with a firearm, and I am certainly aware of many others in which CS has been used against people armed with knives and other weapons. I believe that there are people still alive today specifically as a result of the use of CS by police."
Qualified support for CS spray has also come from senior doctors and nurses at the Royal Liverpool University Hospitals accident and emergency department. A survey conducted on 36 patients suffering from CS found that its effects could last several days in some cases. However, doctors said that injuries caused by the police baton were more serious in almost every case.
Dr Elspeth Worthington, specialist registrar, Dr Christopher Luke, a consultant, and Michael Graves, a senior nurse, wrote: "We suggest that the criteria for police use of CS spray be reviewed and its strength perhaps reduced, but we urge a cautious response to calls to ban a useful weapon for those who stand between spiralling numbers of violent individuals and the rest of us."
Meanwhile, the influential Community Police Consultative Group for Lambeth, which covers Brixton, south London - one of the highest profile police beats in the country - has added its voice to calls to suspend the use of CS spray pending an independent scientific inquiry into its safety.Reuse content