Police accused of brutality after officer beat woman during arrest at nightclub

An investigation into alleged police brutality was launched last night after a black teenager was filmed being repeatedly punched by a policeman, while two colleagues held her down outside a Sheffield nightclub.

Toni Comer said she suffered injuries to her neck, shoulders and legs during the confrontation which ended with the woman being dragged away.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission is to hold an inquiry into the alleged assault that took place in July last year.

A Sheffield race relations manager, who was passed the footage taken from a CCTV camera, told BBC's Newsnight: "It's absolutely shocking. To think that images like that can be coming out of South Yorkshire. This is not the deep South, this is South Yorkshire."

Ruggie Johnson said it reminds him of the beating of an innocent black man in Los Angeles - which prompted race riots in the city in 1991. "It's Rodney King all over again," he claimed.

But South Yorkshire Police, who have launched their own inquiry, have defended the action, saying they were happy with the way the incident was handled.

The officer involved, PC Anthony Mulhall, said he punched the teenager in the arm in order to subdue her and get handcuffs around her wrists as she resisted arrest.

Ms Comer, who is now 20 and is attempting to sue the police, had been drinking brandy in the club and by her own admission she had become aggressive and had been ejected by security guards. Apparently in retaliation she vandalised the guard's car parked outside - she pleaded guilty to an offence of criminal damage and was ordered to pay £250 compensation to the owner.

Following the vandalism, police were called to the scene and the security cameras captured the incident which lies at the heart of the allegations of police assault.

Broadcast on Newsnight, the film shows the teenager at the top of a fire escape with PC Mulhall. They fall down the stairs with the police officer landing on top and his helmet bouncing away.

He is joined by two other police officers and a security guard. As PC Mulhall attempts to handcuff Ms Comer he punches her - seemingly with considerable force - five times. It is not clear where she is hit, although it appears to be in her arm or shoulder area. Minutes later the young mother is dragged away with her trousers around her knees.

There are complications with the evidence. Ms Comer suffers from epilepsy and she says she was having a fit at the time, which is why, she claims, she was writhing on the ground. She says she cannot remember what happened on the night.

When she was shown the footage, she said: "I couldn't believe it to be honest. I couldn't believe the police could do something like that."

In a statement at her court case, PC Mulhall, said: "She began to kick, spit and made attempts to bite me. As her hands became free she tried to grab handfuls of my genitals and knee and kick me in the same place.

"At this point, I struck her as hard as I was physically able with my right fist in an attempt to subdue her. There was no apparent effect so I did this twice more."

He said she continued to resist handcuffs. "I now struck her as hard as I was physically able in an attempt to deaden her arm ... in the end I had to use brute force."

Superintendent Ali Dizaei, the legal adviser for the Black Police Association, said the images looked "awful", but may have been the best way to subdue the woman and prevent more serious harm.

Allegations of excessive force

* CCTV cameras caught a policeman kicking Delbo King, a 33-year-old former paratrooper, and spraying him with gas while trying to arrest him in Manchester in 2003. Mr King admitted resisting arrest, but felt that the beating had been gratuitous. No officers were charged.

* Christopher Alder, aged 37 and also a former paratrooper, choked to death in Hull police station in 1998. CCTV ishowed five officers dragging him unconscious into the custody suite where they left him face-down in his vomit for 10 minutes. Officers were cleared of manslaughter.

* Nuur Saeed, a 22-year-old Somali man from Woolwich, London, died two weeks after falling 25 feet from the balcony of a flat at roughly the same time it was raided by police. Officers found him unconscious with head injuries.

* Michael Powell died after he was detained by police outside his mother's home in the Lozells area of Birmimgham in 2003. Ten officers charged over the 38-year-old's death were aquitted.

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