22 May 2008 Edition

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CS gas 'used more than handcuffs'

Martina Anderson

Martina Anderson

By Laura Friel

A REPORT presented to the Policing Board’s Human Rights Committee shows that CS gas is being used by the PSNI to restrain suspected offenders more often than handcuffs.
A geographical breakdown in the report also reveals that CS gas is being deployed far more often within predominantly nationalist areas, specifically in Derry and north and west Belfast.
Sinn Féin MLA and Policing Board member Martina Anderson said the report raised a number of very serious concerns.
“Incredibly, it showed that CS spray was used to restrain suspected offenders more often than handcuffs.
“The findings of the report lead many to conclude that this is rapidly becoming the weapon of choice for many PSNI officers and that is entirely unacceptable,” said Anderson.

SERIOUS INCIDENTS
The information emerged as a number of serious incidents involving the use of CS gas were raising concerns about PSNI actions.
“We have already witnessed a number of very serious incidents involving the use of CS spray including one last year when it was used against a 15-year-old boy with special needs,” said Anderson.
Evidence of PSNI misuse of CS gas raises further questions about the introduction of other contentious weaponry, in particular the introduction of Tasers, an electro-shock weapon long coveted by the PSNI.
“It doesn’t bode well for the introduction of Tasers if PSNI officers are so quick to reach for their latest bit of kit rather than use a more suitable, humane and less indiscriminate method of restraint,” said Anderson.
Both CS gas and Tasers, like the plastic bullet, are classified as non-lethal weapons but this classification has been questioned by human rights groups. The classification of these weapons as non-lethal relies heavily on their correct deployment in the field.
The plastic bullet was always potentially lethal even when the rules of deployment were adhered to but in the hands of hostile forces, like the RUC and British Army, deployment of the plastic bullet was frequently deadly.
Any evidence that PSNI officers are prepared to misuse other weaponry, particularly as a form of arbitrary punishment, will raise alarm bells amongst northern nationalists, who traditionally have borne the brunt of these actions.
But just such evidence has started to emerge following a number of court cases. During a recent civil case the judge ruled that the PSNI had acted unreasonably in deploying CS gas against a teenager. The court ruled that the person targeted did not pose any threat at the time and deployment of CS gas by the PSNI amounted to punishment for an earlier incident.

CHARGES DISMISSED
Last week, charges against two members of a Derry family who had been doused with CS spray were dismissed.
Charges were dismissed against three men who had been arrested following an incident in Ballymagroarty last year when CS gas was used against a 15-year-old boy with special needs.
Speaking after all the charges against him and his son had been dropped, Paul Ward said the PSNI had attempted to arrest him.
“But I hadn’t done anything wrong. Suddenly there was two car-loads of them at our home and before I knew it I was hit three times with CS gas. My son, Patrick, who has learning difficulties, was also caught up in this.”
A third defendant who went to the assistance of the teenager also had all charges against him dismissed.
The trial collapsed after the PSNI failed to produce both the CS canisters and the accompanying log book in court. It has been alleged that evidence detailing the PSNI use of CS gas for the last 18 months is now ‘missing’. The incident and the missing documentation are now being investigated by the Ombudsman.

INVESTIGATION
Commenting, Foyle MLA Martina Anderson said she is demanding an investigation into PSNI misconduct following the collapse of the case.
“The court heard how PSNI officers collaborated in their evidence and how the CS spray involved had gone missing. Those are extremely worrying claims and I will be raising it with the Policing Board and the Ombudsman.
“I will also be raising the fact that the former Policing Board rubber-stamped the decision to deploy CS spray without even taking a vote.
“Ever since Sinn Féin took our seats on the board we have routinely called for that decision to be rescinded and a full retrospective equality impact assessment be carried out.”
Anderson also said that she has called for the Equality Commission and the Ombudsman to examine this issue because even within the PSNI’s own guidelines it acknowledges that CS gas may be more dangerous to vulnerable groups such as young people or those with certain conditions or on medication. The Foyle MLA added:
“The PSNI has a huge responsibility to earn the trust and respect of communities by delivering accountable policing. The use of CS spray and Tasers is not going to assist that process and I have called on the chief constable to review the use of both of these weapons and I am urging the Ombudsman to rigorously investigate any complaints surrounding their use.”

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