Family of dead man to sue police over use of CS spray

Eric Smith was 52 when he died of a heart attack while in police custody, nearly two years ago. He had no previous history of heart disease but just a few days before his death he had been sprayed in the face with CS by police officers.

Eric Smith was 52 when he died of a heart attack while in police custody, nearly two years ago. He had no previous history of heart disease but just a few days before his death he had been sprayed in the face with CS by police officers.

Now his family are to take legal action against West Yorkshire police, and the Crown Prosecution Service is also investigating whether the officers should face charges.

The family's solicitor has called for a clampdown on the use of CS spray. "We believe he was unlawfully killed," said Istikhar Manzoor, from Irwin Mitchell solicitors.

"He died of a heart attack after being seen by a police surgeon in custody yet had no previous history of heart problems. There has to be a serious clampdown - CS spray should be used as a last resort."

Mr Smith's family believe their case has been boosted by an admission by CS spray manufacturers that their products have failed to meet Home Office safety standards.

Canisters, similar to those used by police officers in 40 forces, have failed to meet the standards laid down by the Police Scientific Development Branch of the Home Office.

The products have now been modified to comply with the standards set but there are no plans to withdraw 200,000 of the old design of canisters already issued to police forces.

Civil Defence Supply was one of four companies that failed the test on the basis that its product delivered too much spray. The canister has now been passed after modifications.

Yesterday, the company said the tests had been ordered on products from all suppliers after concerns over "massive variations in quality and concentration".

Primetake, which markets the spray for French company Alsetex, also admitted that the products had failed to meet specifications, but that the revised design was being issued to police forces this month.

Serious doubts have already been raised over the use of CS spray and its effects on health. Ibrahima Sey, 29, a Gambian asylum seeker, died after he was sprayed when he was handcuffed and on his knees in Ilford police station. The coroner at his inquest raised concerns over use of the incapacitant.

Earlier this year, a Police Complaints Authority report found that a third of public complaints about CS result from police officers squirting the spray at near point-blank range in breach of guidelines.

Last week the coroner at West London Coroner's Court wrote to the Home Secretary to voice concerns over police use of CS spray after an inquest heard it could have played a part in the death of a champion bodybuilder.

Officers used three full cans of the spray to pacify 26-year-old Oliver Scott after he was spotted carrying a knife in a west London street last year.

Pathologist Dr Nat Cary told the inquest that drugs had killed the former British bodybuilding champion but the CS may have contributed to his death. He said the CS, a noxious agent, could "contribute to impairment of breathing".

A report by the Department of Health has warned that people suffering from hypertension, or other cardiovascular diseases, are at particular risk.

Graham Alexander, spokes-man for the Sussex PoliceFederation, whose force does not use the spray, said: "There are nagging doubts about safety."