More attacks on the right to protest: CS spray

A protester hit with incapacitant spray
A protester hit with incapacitant spray

In yet another attack on our right to protest, police yesterday used incapacitant spray on peaceful protesters at Boots in Oxford Street, London. For an eyewitness account head over to F for Philistine where @dawnhfoster has written up what she saw, and includes some video.  You can also read about events from @bc_tmh‘s point of view at Beyond Clicktivism. Since those two blogs have covered things much better than I could, I though that I would show you how events looked to those of us following them at home via Twitter. Reports for the first hour or two were of a successful protest, of people enjoying themselves, talking to people on the street and the police and shop staff being friendly but things went wrong just before 3pm.

13:45 @stavvers: Police being brilliant. Hugh Orde would be a very sad panda #ukuncut

14:48 @UKuncut: Staff at Boots friendly & good natured – laughing and joking with protesters #Ukuncut

14:55 @stavvers: Police arresting and pepper spraying protesters #ukuncut

14:56 @MissEllieMae: Police just pepper sprayed a load of us. We’re calling an ambulance for someone #ukuncut

14:58 @MissEllieMae: People are being dragged away by the police. There is no violence. An ambulance is on its way. This is shameful #ukuncut

15:01 @chris_coltrane: FUCK. Police arrested someone. We shouted “shame”. POLICE PEPPER-SPRAYED PROTESTERS IN THE FACE. #ukuncut http://yfrog.com/h74b9hej

15:03 @chris_coltrane: The girl was arrested for “criminal damage”. Guess what she did? She put leaflets through the door of Boots. #ukuncut

15:04 @UKuncut: 1 person has been arrested in Ldn for pushing a piece paper between a door. The police then pepper sprayed those that helped her #ukuncut

15:04 @chris_coltrane: A dozen people with bright red eyes recovering on the street. The police have taken a peaceful protest, and turned it violent. #ukuncut

15:04 @dawnhfoster: Holy fuck, they just pepper-sprayed a load of people. Waiting for the ambulance. I’m shaking. #UKUncut

15:04 @MissEllieMae: Sitting next to my friend who was pepper sprayed. There was no violence. #ukuncut

15:05 @MissEllieMae: Loads of police here now, everyone is very angry with their behaviour #ukuncut

15:10 @dawnhfoster: Boots have taken victims in to treat them. Chatting to manager, who thinks it was CS gas not pepper spray. #UKUncut

15:12 @stavvers: Ben’s Cookies are providing free milk for protesters who have been hid with pepper spray. Big thanks to them #ukuncut

15:19 @UKuncut: Boots helped to treat protesters affected by pepper spray. Seems even they are disgusted by police behaviour. #ukuncut

15:24 @dawnhfoster: Seriously, where’s the ambulance? #ukuncut

15:27 @UKuncut: Ambulance has arrived to help protesters attacked by police. We <3 the NHS! #ukuncut http://twitpic.com/3uvxt0

15:27 @bengoldacre: When I went on #Ukuncut it was a really strikingly peaceful protest. Interested in justification for police pepperspraying ppl in face.

15:28 @MissEllieMae: Ambulance is here. NHS coming to the rescue… http://plixi.com/p/73581201

15:28 @dawnhfoster Medics treating three guys in ambulance now. Hope they’re ok. Policeman confirms it was CS not pepper spray #UKUncut

21:50 @UKuncut: This slightly dislodged rubber is the ‘criminal damage’ which resulted in police hospitalising 3 people. http://yfrog.com/h5oapkrj

Interestingly, I also saw this from a Boots twitter account:

@BootsMealDeal: We at Boots are disgusted by police behaviour today.

The account was deleted a short time later, along with another Boots account. There is some speculation that the accounts were either fake or were run by Boots staff without authorisation. It did cross my mind earlier that the account might be fake, and on looking back through its tweets I found what looked like a genuine but very unprofessional twitter account.

The aftermath

This video was taken in the immediate aftermath of the incident. Given that CS spray is supposed to be used just prior to restraining someone, and the victim must then be carefully monitored to ensure recovery, this video is fairly damning for the police.

More about CS spray

Officer CW2440 - who sprayed himself in the face as well as the protesters
Officer CW2440 - who sprayed himself in the face as well as the protesters

There was some confusion over what the police actually used on the protesters. Many people referred to Pepper Spray and others referred to CS Gas. What was used was actually CS Spray as confirmed in this Freedom Of Information request. [PDF] (A few police forces use PAVA spray instead.) A lot of people call it pepper spray even though it uses CS while pepper spray uses capsicum. CS spray contains the same active ingredient as CS gas, but dissolved in a solvent that can be sprayed instead of being a powder or being dispersed from a thermal grenade. CS Gas is actually banned for use in warfare according to the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention. It might be illegal to us it on enemy soldiers, but it seems to be acceptable for the police to use it on civilians. When I tweeted this fact earlier, people seemed very worked up about it. As I write this, it has been retweeted 95 times!

The police document on such things is this Guidance on the Use of Incapacitant Spray [PDF] which is written by the ACPO. (Yes, them again.)

The guidelines are clear that CS spray is to be used only in defence to allow police to restrain someone who is a danger to others. From reading eye witness accounts it is obvious that the officer used the spray not to protect himself or others around him, but offensively when people did not do what he wanted. In 2000 the Police Complaints Authority carried out research in to how CS spray was being used by the police. They found that 38% of the time police were using the spray offensively, not defensively.  I do not have any figures to know if this has changed ten years later but I would hope that it has. The guidelines state that “Tactical training in the use of the spray should emphasise precautions in relation to self / cross contamination.” Perhaps officer CW2440 hasn’t had that training, because not only did he incapacitate ten people and cause problems for several others nearby, he also managed to spray himself in the face.

The guidelines also talk at length about caring for the incapacitated person after they have been sprayed and says this is of “utmost importance.” Details of recovery times are given and the guidelines state that particular attention must be given to monitoring breathing. They go on to say “A medical practitioner should examine those who cannot open their eyes or whose eyes are actively running beyond the normal recovery period. The expected period is 20 minutes after exposure.” In actual fact we can see from the tweets that it took nearly half an hour for an ambulance to arrive in a city where bikes and cars are used in addition to ambulances to make sure that paramedics get to the scene within 8 minutes and usually even less time. Questions should be asked about why it took so long for the ambulance to arrive. Protesters called the ambulance, did police interference cause the delay?

The ACPO guidance also has this to say about the use of CS spray in situations like this.

“2.5.13 Such action on the part of an officer may have a profound impact on crowd dynamics with obvious implications for public safety and public order. The spraying of incapacitants in these circumstances  may, particularly in the case of CS, lead to cross contamination causing panic or even hysteria. Similarly, the use of incapacitant spray, again primarily CS although PAVA in a more limited way, in crowded public areas may cause significant cross contamination and another use of force option may be more appropriate. The decision to use incapacitant spray against a person in these circumstances must be capable of subsequent justification and the closest scrutiny.”

From what witnesses and those involved have said to me I think it likely that the use of CS spray was simply the actions of one officer that acted alone, when he saw protesters trying to bar his way to prevent an arrest of someone that had merely posted a flier through a door.  Perhaps he panicked, or perhaps he was just itching for an excuse to exercise some power. Hopefully there will be an enquiry into this incident. More worryingly though, witnesses reported that police wearing a different uniform arrived on the scene shortly after the spraying, and those officers were carrying handguns. I can’t see any justification for sending armed police out to what had been a completely peaceful and friendly protest before the police got involved.

Other articles about this

Police use CS spray on tax protesters (Guardian)

Police pepper spray #ukuncut protesters (Indymedia)

Three in hospital as police use CS gas at UK Uncut protest (Liberal Conspiracy)

Police use CS gas on tax protesters (Telegraph)

CS spray used on UK uncut protest (BBC)

Facebook group calling for the prosecution of officer CW2440

Clamping down on UK Uncut (A personal account by Ellie Mae O’Hagan – New Left Project)

Author: Latentexistence

The world is broken and I can't fix it because I am broken. I can, however, rant about it all and this is where I do that when I can get my thoughts together. Most of the time you'll find my words on Twitter rather than here though. I sometimes write for Where's The Benefit too.

5 thoughts on “More attacks on the right to protest: CS spray”

  1. Here’s another account of the incident, very coherent summary of events. http://is.gd/jexXWI The police did not try to cover this up as usual, and freely gave out the officer’s number to legal observers. It definitely looked like it was a lone idiot cop. Some overheard him say “won’t be doing that again” after the incident.

    Still, it raises very valid questions about whether police should be allowed to carry CS spray if they cannot use it correctly.

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