Spit hoods to be carried by all London police officers, Scotland Yard announces in major U-turn

Commissioner Cressida Dick previously suggested officers could 'get a good kicking' for using hoods in public 

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Thursday 07 February 2019 15:43
Spit hoods are used to prevent prisoners from biting or spitting on officers
Spit hoods are used to prevent prisoners from biting or spitting on officers

All police officers are to carry controversial spit hoods in London, months after Cressida Dick suggested they would get “a good kicking” for using them.

The mesh guards, which are placed over suspect’s heads, have previously been used in Metropolitan Police custody suites only amid opposition from some senior officers.

But on Thursday, Scotland Yard announced the roll out of spit and bite guards to frontline officers following a “careful consultation”.

The Metropolitan Police Federation said its research suggested that 95 per cent of officers wanted to carry the hoods routinely and three were being spat at every day.

“Officers protecting the people of London should not be subject to this sort of disgusting assault when they are carrying out their duty,” chairman Ken Marsh said.

“The force’s decision is a real positive and we appreciate that they have listened to our compelling argument.”

But in September, the Metropolitan Police commissioner said the use of spit guards could make it “more likely for officers to get a good kicking” while restraining suspects.

Ms Dick told the London Assembly: “Those of you who have real concerns about the guard would say that when you put it on somebody's head it is potentially highly frightening and makes somebody feel very claustrophobic.

“It does create, in those who are looking at it being applied, a sense that this is an oppressive thing to do.”

But on Thursday, Ms Dick said: “Officers are tasked with responding to often dangerous situations and they need the protection to be able to do so safely, in order to protect the public, victims and suspects.”

Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, said attacks on officers who put themselves at risk to protect the public were unacceptable.

“It’s vital the Commissioner is able to ensure the police have the equipment they need to do their jobs, although of course it must always be used in a proportionate and transparent way,” he added.

Scotland Yard also announced that 330 more officers would be trained to use Tasers, bringing the total to almost 6,800, and 400 more mobile fingerprint devices will be used on the streets.

Rank-and-file Metropolitan Police officers are also to be given a one-off “recognition payment” of £350 each for their response to terror attacks, the Grenfell Tower fire and other major events that have sparked leave cancellations and disruption.

Many officers have backed calls for spit guards but a Metropolitan Police pilot that concluded in August said they should only be used in custody suites, with the force resisting calls from the home secretary.

Speaking at a policing conference in May, Sajid Javid said he would do everything in his power to ensure all British forces use the hoods.

“I cannot understand why any chief constable would put public perception before protecting police officers, I think it is plainly ridiculous,” he added

Commissioner Cressida Dick previously only backed the use of the hoods in custody suites

The hoods have been used on several people who have died in police custody in both Britain and the US, while footage of their use in public in the UK has provoked concern.

Human rights charity Liberty called the items "dangerous and degrading" and said they had "no place on our streets".

Policy officer Rosalind Comyn added: “It is incredibly disappointing that the Met police have ignored the evidence suggesting that spit hoods do far more harm than good and embraced a tool that risks dramatically escalating police use of force. Forcibly covering people’s faces has been linked to deaths in custody and spit hoods have been used far too willingly on children and other vulnerable people."

Martyn Underhill, the Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner, previously said that the hoods “may not be the best method” of preventing spitting and biting attacks.

“Many people who spit or bite are in mental crisis, under the influence of alcohol and drugs, or sometimes all three,” he added. “Putting a hood on someone can cause serious injury or worse.”

Mr Underhill pointed out that the items were not widely used in Europe or in the NHS, prison services or with staff experiencing abuse.

The latest Home Office statistics show that spit hoods were used 2,600 times across England and Wales in the year to March 2018, including on more than 1,000 people believed to have mental health problems, 1,600 drunk suspects and 1,200 under the influence of drugs.