Use of CS spray during Ballymena disturbance was 'appropriate'

Published Date: 13.11.2006

The Police Ombudsman has concluded that an officer was justified in using CS Spray to help calm a confrontation between rival groups outside a bar in Ballymena.

The incident happened in Henry Street in the early hours of November 28 2004 after police received a report that a scuffle had broken out inside the bar, and that a large crowd had gathered outside to wait on people coming out.

A police patrol arrived at the scene at 1.27am to find a crowd of around 10 to 15 people gathered outside the bar. The officers parked their Land Rover across the road to provide "a non-threatening, high visibility presence" and requested that nearby CCTV cameras be directed towards the front door of the bar.

A short time later a group of six to seven people left the bar and an altercation took place between the two groups. Police moved their vehicle to the front of the bar and three officers got out. Urgent assistance was requested as the two groups continued to confront each other. All three officers drew their CS Spray canisters and warned that CS Spray would be used if the crowd did not disperse.

This warning went unheeded, and two females became involved in a fight during which they pulled each other's hair. As an officer moved in to separate them he was verbally threatened by a number of males. The officer warned them that unless they stopped he would use CS Spray, and broke the seal on his CS Spray canister.

The situation remained volatile, with one female continuing to be verbally threatening to about six or seven males in the other group. A male in this group was becoming more aggressive and was being held back by two males from his own crowd. An officer again warned that CS Spray would be used if the man did not calm down.

When the man broke free from the two people who were restraining him and moved forward with his fists clenched and arms raised, the officer discharged a single burst of CS Spray towards his head, from a distance of around two metres. The man then walked to the side of the road and sat down, and an officer advised him of first aid procedures. An ambulance was initially called, but this was cancelled as it was not needed. The man was not arrested due to the lack of police resources at the scene.

Police Ombudsman investigators seized CCTV footage of the incident, which corroborated the officers' version of events. They also established that the officer who used the CS Spray had been trained in its use some six weeks previously and was therefore authorised to carry the spray at the time of the incident.

After reviewing the evidence, the Police Ombudsman stated: "The action that the officer took was considered and deliberate and he directed aim at the target with intent to stop the immediate threat posed to himself and others. "The available evidence, from all the police officers and CCTV evidence, appears to justify the use of force. There is no evidence to suggest that the conditions at the time were anything other than as described by the officers, and considering all the available evidence, the use of CS Spray would appear to have been justified and appropriate in this instance," concluded Mrs O'Loan.

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