Police in death probe criticised for delay in revising rules for use of CS gas

A police division under investigation over the death of Sheku Bayoh has been criticised for a delay in implementing new rules for the use of CS gas.

Police Scotland was ordered to introduce new guidelines after an officer was investigated for spraying CS gas inside Victoria Hospital, Kirkcaldy, during an incident in October 2014.

The force was told to devise fresh rules in March following an inquiry by the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (PIRC). At the time PIRC said: “operating procedures provide too little guidance to officers working in Fife Division on the issue, use and storage of CS Spray”.

However, three months on from the police watchdog’s ruling Police Scotland is still working on new guidelines, prompting criticism over the delay. Using freedom of information legislation, The Ferret asked Police Scotland if new rules on CS gas had been introduced to comply with PIRC’s ruling.

The official police response was: “Police Scotland is still within the six month time frame for implementing new guidelines in line with the PIRC findings. These guidelines are being worked on but at present are not complete.”

CS gas was used during the yet unexplained incident when Mr Bayoh died in police custody on May 3rd. Mr Bayoh – a father of two – was detained by nine officers near his home in Kirkcaldy after police received reports that a man was wielding a knife.

It was alleged that Mr Bayoh attacked a female officer before being restrained by officers using batons and CS gas. Aamer Anwar, lawyer for the family of Mr Bayoh, condemned Police Scotland for the delay in complying with PIRC’s ruling.

He said: “The fatal consequences of CS spray and restraint are well documented in national police guidelines, so it is deeply disturbing that Police Scotland pay scant regard to the damning findings of a PIRC investigation into the use of CS spray just months before Sheku Bayoh’s death.

One wonders what is the point of PIRC if Police Scotland can just choose to ignore it. Aamer Anwar

“One wonders what is the point of PIRC if Police Scotland can just choose to ignore it. Surely the Scottish Government must act to give PIRC more powers so that Police Scotland is truly held to account.”

Police Scotland’s FOI reply to questions from The Ferret also revealed that 14 Fife police officers have been investigated for improper use of CS gas since 2010. Four cases were referred to the Procurator Fiscal prompting concerns from Amnesty International over the use of CS gas by the force.

Naomi McAuliffe, Amnesty International’s Programme Director in Scotland, said: “Although we do not have evidence of deaths directly linked to CS gas deployment in policing operations, we have highlighted the risks of using CS gas in conjunction with Taser or other restraints that further restrict breathing.

“The news that CS gas was used during the incident which led to Sheku Bayoh’s tragic death in police detention is just one troubling factor in a case which warrants a thorough and transparent investigation.

“We are very concerned that Police Scotland has still not implemented new guidelines for the use of CS gas, despite PIRC’s March ruling that they must do so. It is particularly troubling in light of the fact that, in the last five years, 14 police officers in Fife have been investigated for breaching current guidelines for the use of this dangerous weapon.”

The cause of Mr Bayoh’s death has still not been revealed and his family are demanding answers from Police Scotland.

The incident at Victoria Hospital happed on 18th October 2014 when police used CS gas on a man who became violent. He had collapsed in a police vehicle following his detention and once at hospital he became violent, attacking officers and causing disruption in the Accident and Emergency Department.

As a result, one of the officers discharged CS spray. PIRC found the officer’s actions were justified but said Police Scotland should issue new detailed guidance on the use of CS gas to officers in Fife and standardize procedures throughout Scotland.

An abridged version of this story was published by the Sunday Mail on 28 June 2015.

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