Too much police force? 'Policing by coercion'?

CS gas and long-handled batons are new weaponry designed to protect officers. Paul Donovan asks whether they have been sufficiently tested

Who is protecting whom? The recent publicity concerning two incidents in Middlesbrough, where CS incapacitant spray was used to separate a baby from its mother and against children in a home, has brought into question the way in which the police are using increasingly lethal weaponry.

The incidents occurred in May, just two months into the trial period for the use of the spray. The six-month trial began on 1 March and involved 3,800 officers in 16 forces across the country.

There had been a number of problems involving CS spray prior to approval being given for street trials on the public. The trials had been due to start in July 1995, but after an incident involving a police officer who suffered burns to his eyes the tests were suspended by the Association of Chief Police Officers' Self Defence Arrest and Restraint Committee.

On 4 January 1996, an ACPO document circulated to police forces declared that there were two options: "First, to await a new product with a 'safe' solvent ... second, to go ahead with the trials using the CS with [the solvent] MIBK, as presently held by forces, in the knowledge of the possible health risks that have been identified". The Home Office chose the second option - and two weeks after the spray went on to the streets a man was dead.

Ibrahima Sey was arrested by Forest Gate police officers and taken to Ilford police station. It is alleged that Mr Sey was then handcuffed and while surrounded by police officers was restrained using the CS spray. He later died from "hyperintensive heart disease".

On 26 March there was trouble outside a Wirral nightclub. Police were called and, it is claimed, in the ensuing disturbance a police officer was knocked unconscious. The party visiting the nightclub were returned to their coach, the doors were closed and CS spray was discharged. Barry Sherman, Labour MP for Huddersfield, says: "It was my understanding that the police have very strict guidelines during the test period about the circumstances in which CS spray can be used. I would be astonished if discharging it into a confined space ... is in accordance with those guidelines."

The civil rights organisation Liberty has highlighted how all of these incidents are inconsistent with ACPO's own guidelines on the use of the spray. These state that the spray is issued "primarily for self-defence", "to provide officers with a tactical advantage in a violent encounter", and is "primarily designed for dealing with violent subjects who cannot be restrained".

On 21 August, despite the visible evidence of serious misuse of the CS spray during the trial period, the Home Secretary, Michael Howard, gave the go-ahead for its deployment with all forces. Labour MP Harry Cohen says: "The CS spray has been trialled on the public. There has been gross irresponsibility in not assessing this trial period properly."

An illustration of what happens when lethal weaponry is issued in an uncontrolled way can be seen from a review of the recent history of the new, US-style, long baton, made available to police forces in June 1994 - after a one-year trial.

In October 1994, the Criminal Justice Bill demonstration in Hyde Park provided the first major public order situation where the new, longer batons were to be deployed. While the new batons are not supposed to be used against the head, the figures for injuries in Hyde Park suggest a police force out of control.

The Police Complaints Authority annual report refers to their subsequent inquiry, which involved 23 complaints of assault by police officers. "Of these, 20 involved the alleged misuse of the newly issued long batons and 18 related to head injuries," the report said.

The finding of the PCA investigation raised many questions regarding the use of the new baton, the secretive trial period and the training police officers had received. Unfortunately further incidents were to follow Hyde Park.

On 3 May 1995, Brian Douglas was restrained by police officers using long-handled batons. As a result of being struck on the head he suffered "massive and irreversible brain damage" from which he later died. A leading neuro-surgery professor, John Pickard, speaking at the inquest, likened the injuries to those caused by "knobkerries, formidable weapons made of heavy wood ... which are used in South Africa". Coroner Sir Montague Levine, questioned the training of the officers concerned: "There is a need for all officers who have been trained to use a baton to be taught the specific dangers, the after-effects and potential signs and symptoms that can follow a baton blow to the head. "

While Brian Douglas was lying in a St Thomas's hospital bed, another victim of the baton-wielding police of south London was being brought in for treatment.

On 5 May 1995, while leaving the LWT studios on the South Bank after participating in the Richard Littlejohn show, a group of anti-M11 protesters were met by police dispatched from Kennington police station.

Zoe Chater recalled being greeted by police with drawn batons. She went to help a friend who was being held on the ground by police, and was struck by the batons. "There were two policemen who hit me - one of them whacked me on the head". She was taken to St Thomas's, where she was released the next day wearing a neck brace. A Scotland Yard spokesman confirmed that: "Police were called to LWT studios. They were met by a large group of people who disbanded when requested to do so by police."

After the Douglas and Chater incidents, Harry Cohen wrote to the Home Secretary asking for a full public inquiry and expressing "extreme concern" at the "excessive, disproportionate and unnecessary damage" that the new baton can inflict. There was no response.

Another death occurred in December, when Wayne Douglas, 25, was arrested in Brixton for allegedly committing an aggravated burglary. After a chase, the police claimed that "to protect themselves officers used long handled batons to disarm him of the large kitchen knife he was carrying". Mr Douglas later died of a heart attack.

The police defend the use of CS spray and batons as reducing the injuries caused to police officers. After the Brian Douglas inquest, superintendent John Rees from Vauxhall police station claimed that between 1994 and 1995 3,700 police officers were injured. He continued: "Since the introduction of the officer safety training package, of which the batons are an aspect, that number of injuries has been reduced to around 3,100.

The Police Complaints Authority appears sceptical. The latest annual report says: "The design of the new batons also means that they can inflict more serious injuries. The Authority is well aware of this risk and is closely monitoring baton-related complaints."

John Alderson, former Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall, has warned of the ratchet effect of increasing police weaponry. He claims: "The police have changed from being the police of the people to being the police of the government."

Liz Parratt of Liberty also sees in the use of CS spray "a move away from our tradition of policing by consent rather than by coercion". She said: "In the long term, this trend will continue to undermine the public co-operation, trust and confidence on which the police rely".

Operation Justice, a new campaigning group supported by Liberty, Inquest and some 40 MPs, has called for the immediate withdrawal of both long- handled batons and CS incapacitant spray. Harry Cohen, a founder member of Operation Justice, is angry about the lack of parliamentary scrutiny of the use of CS gas and the new batons on the public. He accuses the Government of being "irresponsible in not assessing the trialling period of both weapons properly".

Surely the time has come for a reassesment and, as Harry Cohen has suggested, a full public inquiry into the use of such lethal weaponry in the community.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
David Silva strokes home his and City's second goal
Arts and Entertainment
a clockwork orange, stanley kubrick
The Tesco Hudl2: An exceptional Android tablet that's powerful, well-built and outstanding value

Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drinkAuthor DBC Pierre presents his guide to the morning after
Life and Style
food + drink
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas