Police Watchdog's Report Critical Of Taser Use In Custody

An HMIC inspection of Wiltshire Police revealed officers’ use of Tasers was "disproportionate to the level of threat"


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A surprise inspection of cells at Wiltshire Police by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) which revealed a lack of policy and governance on officers’ use of Taser, suggests some officers are overusing the stun gun device, say lawyers.

Fiona McGhie, who specialises in civil liberties at Irwin Mitchell, said pointing Tasers at detainees in the controlled environment of a police custody suite should be the exception, not the rule.

“Using Taser in an environment where the police largely have the upper hand suggests certain officers think the law on proportionate use of force simply doesn’t apply to them,” she said.

Her comments come after the HMIC carried out the unannounced inspection of cells in Swindon and Melksham in December, reporting that the constabulary’s use of force lacked oversight and governance and the use of Tasers and leg restraints was not proportionate to the threat posed.

Expert Opinion
“With Taser-carrying police officers in England and Wales being in the minority but on the rise, it’s deeply concerning how often we hear of its disproportionate use.

“A police custody suite is a controlled environment where officers are on hand in numbers to deal with difficult situations, so using a Taser – which is classed within the police as a less lethal weapon - should be a rarity.”
Fiona McGhie, Solicitor

The HMIC report found Wiltshire’s custody suites had "improved across most areas" since the first inspection in 2009.

But inspectors Martin Lomas and Dru Sharpling said they were concerned that the use of Tasers was "disproportionate to the level of threat" and there was "no policy or governance on their use", adding that HMIC’s expectation was that the 50,000-volt device should only be used in exceptional circumstances.

"We encountered officers removing their Tasers and pointing them at the detainee, more than we would expect to see in a controlled environment," the inspectors reported.

Wiltshire Police said it was aware of the issues and was putting measures in place to tackle them.

The report came a year after Wiltshire officer PC Lee Birch used a Taser on a naked detainee who threw his underpants in the officer’s face. The incident happened at the force’s Melksham custody suite.

The officer was later cleared of assault.