Police Taser deaths will rise in UK unless action taken, coroner warns

Report sparked by death of 30-year-old father Marc Cole, who was Tasered three times

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Tuesday 21 April 2020 18:36 BST
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Met Police Commissioner confirms more officers be armed with Tasers in London

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British police may cause more deaths by Tasering people unless action is taken, a coroner has warned.

The report, sparked by the death of 30-year-old father Marc Cole, comes after the Home Office announced that 8,000 more police officers would be armed with the electroshock weapons.

But Geraint Williams, the assistant coroner for Cornwall, said the inquest into Mr Cole’s death had sparked wider concerns.

“In my opinion there is a risk that future deaths will occur unless action is taken,” said a report published on Monday.

“I am concerned, based upon the evidence that was led before the jury, that there is insufficient independent data as to the lethality of Taser use and that, therefore the advice and training provided to police officers may be deficient or incomplete.”

A jury found that a Taser had a “more than trivial impact” on the cardiac arrest that killed Mr Cole in May 2017.

He was stunned for more than 40 seconds in Falmouth, Cornwall, after an incident where he had “been acting in a paranoid and psychotic manner” following the death of his father.

Police were called after Mr Cole, who had taken cocaine, jumped from a first floor window with a large knife.

He stabbed a woman in her garden before walking into a road and slashing his own throat.

“The police arrived and, following a confrontation with Mr Cole, Tasered him on three occasions,” the coroner’s report said. “He suffered a cardiac arrest at the scene and was rushed by ambulance to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead by medical staff.”

The cause of death recorded by the jury was “use of cocaine, episode of altered behaviour including self-harm,exertion, excitement, the use of an x26 Taser device and restraint”.

Mr Williams called for a “wholesale review” of the effects of being Tasered multiple times or for a long period, “so that fuller and more comprehensive advice, guidance and training can be given” to police.

The report was sent to the Home Office and College of Policing, which said information on the risks was already incorporated into training.

The Inquest charity said the case “exposed a shocking vacuum of data and research on the dangers of tasers, resulting in a lack of understanding and insufficient training for the police armed with them”.

Director Deborah Coles added: “The continued roll out of Tasers to police forces, without a full independent review of their associated risks and lethal potential, is nothing less than reckless.

“It is critical that this recommendation for a review is implemented with urgency.”

Met Police Commissioner confirms more officers be armed with Tasers in London

The Home Office said an internal review, including independent medical evaluations by a scientific advisory committee, concluded that Taser processes and safeguards were already “sufficient”.

A spokesperson added: “Every death in police custody is a tragedy and we have taken the coroner’s report into Mr Cole’s death very seriously.”

Guidance issued by the College of Policing states that the duration or Taser discharges must be proportionate, lawful, and necessary, warning: “Any medical risk may be increased the longer or more often the device is discharged.”

Since 2018, separate guidance by manufacturer Axon has said: “In some individuals, the risk of death or serious injury may increase with cumulative exposure … minimise repeated, continuous or simultaneous exposures when practicable.”

The College of Policing said it had reviewed its existing training and guidance after receiving the coroner's report.

Chief executive Mike Cunningham added: “We will ensure that our immediate and future work is informed by the events that culminated in Mr Cole’s tragic death.

“We keep Taser training under regular review and we will carefully examine the findings of the inquest to ensure learning continues to be reflected.”

In March, the Home Office announced that police forces in England and Wales were being given £6.7m to purchase 8,155 Tasers.

A total of 41 out of 43 regional forces submitted funding bids under the scheme.

Priti Patel, the home secretary, called Tasers a “vital option in dangerous situations” at the time.

The Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers, called them an “essential piece of equipment which have saved many police officers from serious injury or worse”.

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