Officer right to use CS Spray during Strabane incident

Published Date: 13.11.2006

The Police Ombudsman has concluded that a police officer was right to discharge CS Spray during an incident in which he had a beer bottle smashed over his head.

The officer was part of a patrol which came to the aid of another officer who was trying to break up the fight at Abercorn Square in Strabane shortly after 3am on 18 December 2004. One of the men involved in the fight became abusive when police intervened. He swung his fists and kicked out as three officers tried to restrain him and shouted at other people in the area to become involved.

An officer then drew his CS Spray and warned the man to stop struggling. As he did so, the officer was struck over the back of the head with a beer bottle by another person in the area. The officer then shouted a second warning that CS Spray would be used. When this too was ignored he directed a jet of spray towards the face of the man his colleagues were trying to restrain.

The spray took immediate effect, allowing officers to handcuff the man and lead him to their vehicle. During their subsequent investigation, Police Ombudsman investigators analysed officers' notebook entries and CS Spray usage records. Training records also showed that the Officer had been properly trained in the use of CS Spray.

Investigators also retrieved CCTV footage from a local business premises, but the incident was not captured. The man who was arrested during the incident made no complaint against police but gave a statement in which he recalled being told by an officer that he been sprayed with CS Spray and that it would sting for a while.

Other potential witnesses were also contacted by investigators, but nobody else wished to make a statement. Having considered the evidence, the Police Ombudsman, Mrs Nuala OLoan, concluded that the officer had been justified in using CS Spray to "stop the immediate threat posed to himself and others." "He had little option other than to stop the threat with the most appropriate force available to him, namely CS Spray," said Mrs O'Loan. "The use of force was proportionate lawful and necessary to prevent serious injury. It was in accordance with police instructions and training," she said.

The incident happened during the first five months following the introduction of CS Spray to Northern Ireland. All uses of CS Spray during this period were investigated by the Police Ombudsman, following a request from the PSNI.

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