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9 January 2003 Edition

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Now the PSNI want CS gas

Sinn Féin MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone Michelle Gildernew has accused the PSNI of "arming themselves with all available weapons of repression", following demands from the PSNI Chief Hugh Orde for his members to be armed with hand held CS gas.

The Pat Finucane Centre has also expressed its grave concerns. The Derry-based human rights group is concerned that guidelines in Britain are operational only and are not legally binding.

They point out that the medical journal Lancet has called for a moratorium on the use of CS spray by police until further research is carried out.

An inquest jury in Britain gave a verdict of unlawful killing following the death of a Mr Ibrahima Sey, who had been held down by police officers and sprayed with CS spray. At the inquest the coroner recommended an urgent review of police use of CS spray.

The research carried out by the NIO steering group into the Patten Recommendations focused on the use of CS gas in canisters or grenades in public order situations, the PFC says. The current proposal, however, relates to hand held CS spray, which contains a significantly higher level of irritant - the hand held CS spray available in Britain contains 25 times more irritant than the CS spray used by police in the USA,

The PFC is also worried that the hand held spray would constitute an addition to plastic bullets, not an alternative, and would be totally unsuitable for public order situations.

Moreover, according to a study for the Department of Health, "concerns were expressed that certain groups of the population, comprising individuals with bronchial asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and those suffering from hypertension or other cardiovascular disease, might be particularly susceptible to the effects of CS spray".

CS spray authorisation for use in Britain was first given by Conservative Home Secretary Michael Howard in August 1996, before clinical trials had been completed and while parliament was in recess.

The PFC says that the provision of CS spray to PSNI officers would send out the extremely negative message that policing here was still dominated by the principle of coercion as opposed to cooperation.

"Since the formation of the PSNI, the current Policing Board has presided over the issuing of a new and more lethal plastic bullet," said Michelle Gildernew. "Now it is reported that they are to be lobbied by Hugh Orde to be allowed to fire CS gas. To many within the nationalist community who have direct experience of the PSNI and their predecessors in the RUC, this development is undoubtedly worrying."

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