Officer was right to use CS Spray during Belfast incident

Published Date: 08.11.2006

The Police Ombudsman has said a police officer was right to have used CS Spray during unrest in the Westland Road and Knutsford Drive areas of Belfast.

For a limited period following the introduction of CS Spray, the Police Ombudsman's Office was asked to investigate all uses of the device by officers. One such incident arose following reports of a dispute in the Westland Road and Knutsford Drive areas of Belfast on November 7 2004.

Police had received a telephone call to say that youths from a nearby Loyalist area were out with a lawnmower and were trying to cause damage to cars.

Three police officers arrived on the scene and met a large crowd of people from a Nationalist area which had gathered, some of whom were carrying baseball bats and golf clubs. A second crowd from a Loyalist area were seen to have gathered further along the Westland Road towards the Cavehill Road.

A Constable got out of his Land Rover, called for assistance and, fearing a clash, asked one of the crowds to stay back. A man with a baseball bat then ran from one of the crowds towards members of the opposing group. The officer chased and grabbed him.

A struggle between the two men ensued and members of one of the crowds attempted to join in. A second officer issued two warnings to the man with the bat to stop or he would be sprayed. The officer then attempted to spray the man but his equipment misfired and a number of his colleagues and members of the crowd were also affected. By that stage the police were outnumbered and withdrew from the scene.

Police Ombudsman investigators attempted to make contact with the person who had alerted the police initially. They did not receive any response. The Police Ombudsman, Mrs Nuala O'Loan, concluded that the officer had little option other than to use his spray: "The officer used verbal warnings which were ignored. He was in the position of having to make a split second decision. Immediate action was necessary to stop the threat posed to his colleague. He had to use the most appropriate force available to him," she said.

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