Published Date: 22.03.2007
The Police Ombudsman has found that police officers were justified in using CS Spray during three incidents in Coleraine in October and November 2004.
The Police Ombudsman was asked by the police to investigate all uses of the spray during the first five months following its introduction to Northern Ireland in the summer of 2004.
The spray was used at Coleraine Police Station on October 28 2004 to subdue a man police described as "a danger to himself and officers".
Police had initially responded to a call that a man had been acting suspiciously at a petrol station before driving off. Officers found him pushing a car in Atlantic Road. He became abusive when police arrested him on suspicion of drink driving.
At Coleraine Police Station the man continued to be abusive to police officers. He said he had Hepatitis B and HIV and threatened to spit at the officers. He was found to be carrying shards of glass which he said were to harm himself and to infect others.
The man was taken to a cell and it was arranged that he speak to a solicitor. Later in the night, a police officer said he could hear shouting and screaming coming from the man's cell.
When a police officer ran to the cell, the man tried to barricade the door. He was holding a piece of plastic which appeared to have been broken from the cell light shade and was cutting one of his arms with it.
Despite a warning that CS Spray would be used if he did not calm down, the man lunged at an officer with the shard of plastic. As he did so another officer discharged the spray.
Police Ombudsman investigators recovered CCTV footage which captured much of what happened.
The man gave a statement to Police Ombudsman investigators saying he was physically and mentally sick and said he had suffered a panic attack.
The Police Ombudsman, Mrs Nuala O'Loan, said the officer was right to use the spray:
"He was faced with a situation where immediate action was needed to stop the threat which the man posed to himself and to others. It was a potentially life-threatening situation. His action helped prevent a serious assault on a colleague or injury to the man who had been arrested," she said
The second incident happened in the town on November 6 2004, when police used the spray on a man who was "abusive and threatening."
A woman had called 999 between three and four o'clock in the morning and said she wanted her boyfriend removed from her house. The 999 telephone operator said she heard noise and shouting in the background.
Police arrived at the house within minutes and spoke to the woman's boyfriend who, they said, alternated between being friendly and threatening.
The man left the house but police later saw him in another area of the town. They advised him not to return to his girlfriend's house and suggested he make arrangements to make his way home.
The man became abusive, adopted a boxer's stance and threatened to assault the officers. He then walked into the middle of the road, causing two cars to stop, while continuing to shout abuse at the police.
He was told that he was under arrest for Disorderly Behaviour, but continued to threaten police. Officers issued three warnings before CS Spray was used against him.
During their investigation of the incident, Police Ombudsman investigators sent letters asking the man to provide his version of events. He did not respond.
Mrs Nuala O'Loan concluded that the officer was right to use the spray:
"The officer was faced with a man who not responding to having been talked to or arrested. The man was also abusive and threatening. If the officer had used his baton, the man could have could have suffered a serious injury.
"By using the spray the officer was able to bring him under control with minimum risk to himself and to the police officers. The use of the spray was the right thing to do," she said.
The third incident happened on November 22 at New Market Street in Coleraine after police responded to a call from a publican who was having difficulty removing a man from his bar.
When police asked the man to leave the premises he became abusive and aggressive. He was warned that unless he calmed down and left, CS Spray would be used against him.
The man left the bar, but then kicked the door of a police car outside. An officer warned him that CS spray would be used and asked those in the area to stand clear.
The Constable sprayed the man's chest but this appeared to have no effect. The man continued to be aggressive and the officer discharged his spray again. The man later made a complaint to the Police Ombudsman's Office.
Police Ombudsman staff investigating the incident established that while there were no CCTV cameras in the bar, other video cameras of the area outside the bar existed. This footage was seized and examined.
The Mrs O'Loan said the evidence showed that the police officer was right to have used his spray:
"CCTV evidence shows that the man was aggressive and threatened the police. The use of the spray appears to have been justified," she said.