in the back
Current affairs and chemical coshes
Police restraint, Issue 1481
police-taser.jpg THE Home Office is considering the use of highly controversial restraint techniques, including Tasers and chemical coshes, on difficult and challenging people held in police custody – including the mentally ill.

A report passed to the Eye and marked “official sensitive” reveals early concerns about both the legality of “stunning” or “shocking” people who are already in custody, and who may be mentally ill. There were also concerns about selling the idea to a general public that is already uneasy about the use of Tasers in the light of previous deaths. But the report suggests that although such restraint techniques are contentious and possibly costly, they might prove “safer” than the current use of officers piling in, which has resulted in many deaths in custody.

Latest figures from the Independent Office for Police Conduct showed that 23 people died during or after detention by police in 2017 – the highest number for 10 years. Seventeen had been subjected to force or restraint by police or others before their deaths – the vast majority of those had mental health, drug or alcohol problems. A disproportionate number were black.

Inherent risks
The leaked Home Office report came in response to last year’s wide-ranging and highly critical review of deaths and serious incidents in police custody. Dame Elish Angiolini QC had concluded that those involving force by police “are among the most serious”. She recommended that use of police cells for those with mental health issues should be phased out – and in the meantime the use of police vehicles and cells should be reserved for “exceptional” cases.

Warning of the inherent risks of using restraint, Angiolini recommended better training in “de-escalation” techniques to try to head off violence, and in identifying anyone suffering serious behavioural disturbances as a “medical emergency”. Her report itself raised a number of concerns about the use of Tasers.

However, the Home Office briefing paper said existing police guidance already encourages officers to manage conflict without the use of force, and set out four alternatives to physical restraint: oral sedation; Tasers; Tasers followed by injected sedation; and physical force with injected sedation. It said the London Ambulance Service was already using physical restraint coupled with injected sedation for patients suffering “acute behavioural disturbance” and questioned whether it could be used in other circumstances.

‘Secret workshops’
Two workshops later, it had narrowed those down and was recommending seeking legal advice and further research on safety, costs and pitfalls of the increased use of Tasers alone and using physical restraint with injected sedation.

News of the document has alarmed criminal justice campaigners, who fear that increasing use of force carries increasing risk of injury and death. “This important debate needs to take place in the open – not in secret workshops,” said one.

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DEEPCUT INQUEST: A GRAY AREA
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MoJ’S BROKEN FIX
Lawyers accuse the government of reneging on its promise to cough up an extra £15m to ease a chronic legal aid funding crisis.

To read all these stories in full, please buy issue 1481 of Private Eye - you can subscribe here and have the magazine delivered to your home every fortnight.

Next issue on sale: 27th November 2018
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Private Eye Issue 1480