The dangers of water cannon: Blinded German man tells Britain ‘don’t make the same mistakes as other countries’

Pensioner Dietrich Wagner is in London to lobby the Home Secretary about the dangers of the controversial crowd dispersal weapon

Dietrich Wagner, a German pensioner, remembers the exact moment he was knocked over by a water cannon, in Stuttgart in 2010. It felt as though he was being punched. He fell backwards, lost consciousness, and when he woke, blood was running down his face. “I couldn’t open my eyes,” he says. “I only saw black.”

The former engineer, who turns 70 this year and has had six operations on his eyes, is still almost completely blind. He is in London to warn Home Secretary Theresa May not to authorise the use of water cannons on the streets of mainland Britain.

“My message is Britain shouldn’t make the same mistake as other countries around the world,” says Mr Wagner, whose eyelids were torn and the lenses of his eyes permanently damaged after he was injured during an environmental demonstration. “Water cannons are not democratic. They are instruments of violence. They are considered much more harmless than they actually are.”

The debate about the use of the controversial crowd dispersal weapon is raging. Mayor Boris Johnson is asking Londoners for their views on whether the Metropolitan Police should  be able to use water cannons. The public consultation is due to close at the end of this month. Human rights group Liberty claims the weapon is “inflammatory, militaristic and brutal” and “liable to cause panic, in addition to pain and distress”.

But Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe has said it could be a valuable public order tool for police, which would be “rarely used and rarely seen”. The final decision to authorise the use of the cannons rests with the Home Secretary.

Yet Mr Wagner, who attended a public meeting – along with the deputy mayor for policing, the assistant police commissioner and interested Londoners – said he has been left “shocked and traumatised” by his encounter with the weapon. He had no idea of the harm it could cause until he was standing directly in front of it.

“First, it was quiet inside. The pressure was not so powerful that I couldn’t stand it. But then the pressure increased, step by step. Women were knocked over in the stream... I made a sign to show them to stop, but it made no impression,” Mr Wagner told The Independent. “Suddenly I felt something like a punch.”

Mr Wagner was one of more than 100 people who were reportedly injured at the demonstration, which was held to protest against the transformation of Stuttgart’s main train station into an underground hub and the cutting down of trees.

Mr Wagner, who said he had not attended a protest since his student years, thought about taking his own life after he realised he was never likely to regain his sight: “I couldn’t do nearly anything I did before. No cycling; no driving my motorcycle. No watching TV or reading.

“My [partner of 20 years] had to feed me. If you’re blind, and you have no practice, you can’t eat by yourself,” he said, adding that he has 5 per cent visibility in his right eye and nothing but a stream of light in his left.

A Met spokesman said: “We accept and understand the negative visual impact that water cannons create and concerns around the potential for them to cause injuries,” but added: “When faced with major criminality taking place... it is our duty to keep the peace and Londoners safe. We strongly believe that this tactic will help us to do this.”

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Extras
indybest
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Poet’s corner: Philip Larkin at the venetian window of his home in 1958
booksOr caring, playful man who lived for others? A new book has the answer
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
art
News
Matthew McConaughey and his son Levi at the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 17, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.
advertisingOscar-winner’s Lincoln deal is latest in a lucrative ad production line
Life and Style
Pick of the bunch: Sudi Pigott puts together roasted tomatoes with peppers, aubergines and Labneh cheese for a tomato-inspired vegetarian main dish
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, Brokerage)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

UNIX Application Support Analyst- Support, UNIX, London

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: UNIX Application Support Analyst-...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape