London

Spit hoods to be trialled by Met Police

Spit hood Image copyright Herts Police
Image caption Spit hoods can only be used once

Controversial spit hoods are to be trialled by the Metropolitan Police.

The mesh fabric hoods are placed over the heads of suspects to protect police officers from potentially being spat at or bitten.

The restraining device is to be trialled at 32 custody suites across the capital from October.

Liberty, Amnesty and Inquest are among the Human rights groups to speak out against them, saying they belong in "horror stories".

"A spit hood is a primitive, cruel and degrading tool that inspires fear and anguish," Martha Spurrier, director of Liberty, said.

"Police have the power to use force against citizens when they have to - using handcuffs, arm restraints, leg restraints, pepper spray, batons.

"The suggestion that officers need to be able to cover people's faces and heads is as far-fetched as it is frightening.

"Spit hoods belong in horror stories, not on the streets of a civilised society - we urge the Met Police to think again."

Image caption The spit hoods would be used in police custody suites

The Police Federation has called for the use of spit hoods to protect officers.

British Transport Police has used a hood 151 times since introducing them in June 2014.

The force is being investigated by the police watchdog over an incident where officers put a spit hood on a man at London Bridge in July.

Shamik Dutta, the solicitor representing the man who had the hood put on his head, said: "The application of a spit hood can be deeply distressing and humiliating, causing panic in the detained person.

"By obscuring someone's face, the use of a spit hood can prevent witnesses, including police officers, from quickly identifying whether a person is suffering breathing difficulties, is choking or has suffered some other serious facial or head injury requiring immediate medical attention to avoid life-threatening consequences."

'Hand across mouth?'

Lord Adebowale, former chair of the commission on the Met Police's response to mental health, said: "There is an awful trend of these devices being misused and being used in a way which tends to impact minority ethnic groups, those with mental health challenges, those with learning difficulties."

He added he was concerned they could be used "in situations where the police may not be trained to deal with it", leading to individuals being "forced into positions where breathing can be restrained".

He also said it was a question of human dignity.

But a former Det Insp at the Met, Hamish Brown, said: "What's the other option? Putting a hand across someone's mouth or a handkerchief in their mouth?

"It is pretty awful to have this, but unfortunately it's the way society has gone. It is for the police to be sensible and use their discretion."

A Met spokeswoman said officers would be trained to ensure use was proportionate, but added they were necessary "to meet the duty of care owed to officers when a detainee spits at or attempts to bite them".

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