By Andrew Petherbridge, Licensed Paralegal, Hull.
One of the primary purposes of the British police service is to protect, help and reassure citizens, yet in recent years a worrying number of cases of police brutality have been reported by the UK press.
Many will be familiar with high-profile incidents, such as the unlawful killing of Ian Tomlinson at the G20 summits in 2009 and the shooting of Mark Duggan, which sparked the 2011 London riots.
However, the case currently attracting media attention is that of the UK Uncut protestors, who were unlawfully sprayed with CS gas by PC James Kiddie after objecting to the arrest of a female activist during a tax avoidance protest in Oxford Street, London.
Designed to act as a riot control agent, CS spray is highly debilitating, causing a severe burning sensation, temporary blindness and, in extreme cases, permanent scarring.
Following the incident, six of the victims sued the Met, leading to a formal investigation being launched with the police watchdog, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), after the case was dismissed by two internal Met inquiries.
The IPCC’s findings confirmed that, not only did PC Kiddie’s actions amount to excessive force, but that they were, in fact, unwarranted. Footage showed that police officers at the scene were not in any physical danger, despite Kiddie’s claims that he feared for both his own and his colleagues’ safety.
It was also ruled that the CS gas had been delivered at a range which could have caused the victims lasting eyesight damage and that police officers failed to monitor the health of the protestors immediately afterwards, as is policy.
Whilst the incident took place more than three years ago, it was only last week that Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, finally admitted the Met had been at fault and volunteered an apology to the victims – both for the initial incident itself and the delay in reaching a verdict. All six victims were also reportedly awarded a claim for damages.
It is hoped that the fallout of the aforementioned case will spark a change in how the Met manages its staff and its internal disciplinary procedures. After all, in the great majority of cases, the British police force do an exceptional job, but it is instances such as this which can generate feelings of mistrust and resentment amongst communities. For the police then this can only make what is already an incredibly important and demanding job even harder.
So, clearly it is in the Police’s own interests to provide reassurances to the public that CS Gas will only ever be used where absolutely necessary.