PFC accuses Policing Board members of 'rubber stamping' CS Spray Approval

The Derry based Pat Finucane Centre has accused members of the Policing Board of 'rubber stamping' the decision to approve use of CS Spray by the PSNI. The decision was made at the monthly meeting of the Board in February. Our key concerns are:

  • Board members who had publicly expressed concern then failed to carry out a consultation process before endorsing the proposal,
  • The decision was taken in secret at a meeting from which the public was excluded,
  • The Board mislead the public in the subsequent press release,
  • The proposal was endorsed before any guidelines had been agreed and with no allowance for consultation with relevant agencies such as the Police Ombudsman, the Human Rights Commission, human rights NGOs or experts in the field.

A spokesperson for the PFC said, "When this issue was first raised we contacted a number of Policing Board members, human rights organisations and the Police Ombudsman. We provided reports that were extremely critical of the use of CS Spray in England and Wales and contact details for one of the few academics to have done any research in this field. Since certain members of the Board had publicly expressed scepticism about the proposal and the desire to be better informed we presumed that they would welcome the opportunity to speak to experts in the field. The Police Ombudsman responded promptly. No member of the Board however acknowledged the concerns raised or made contact with the author of the highly critical report on the use of CS Spray.

In January the Chief Constable, Hugh Orde, made a presentation to the Corporate Policy Committee of the Policing Board advocating the provision of CS Spray to his officers. Because of the controversial nature of the issue the meeting was thrown open to all Board members. This offered an opportunity, particularly to members of the SDLP who had expressed concern, to delay the process until their concerns had been addressed and a wider consultation had taken place. The only member of the SDLP to attend was Eddie Mc Grady, a member of this sub-committee. The other SDLP members, who had expressed the desire for more information, did not attend. Ian Paisley Jr, who had already welcomed the use of CS Spray, but who is not a member of this sub-committee did avail of the open invitation. The sub-committee then recommended approval of CS Spray to the full Policing Board. When the Board met for its February monthly meeting the proposal was endorsed by the full Board without a vote being taken. This decision was taken during the private session from which the public was excluded. Following this private session the Board meeting was opened up to the public.

The Policing Board then (see full text below) claimed that it had "considered all the implications associated with the introduction of this spray." Given the failure to consult with experts outside of policing who have highlighted the potential dangers of CS Spray we take issue with the claim that the Board considered all the implications. The press release went on to state that the "Board has sought assurances that stringent guidelines are in place…" The clear implication was that guidelines were already in place when the proposal was approved. Surely it would be highly irresponsible for Board members to endorse the controversial use of CS in the absence of stringent guidelines? Yet this is precisely what the Board did. The Policing Board and the PSNI have confirmed that guidelines have yet to be drawn up. In January the PFC pointed out to Board members that one of the problems in England and Wales was the fact that CS Spray guidelines are not legally binding and are for 'operational' guidance only. The Guidance currently offered is highly discretionary and cannot, by any definition, be described as 'stringent guidelines.

Having failed to consult with experts who were critical of CS Spray the Policing Board should at least have delayed any endorsement until legally binding guidelines were agreed in advance following prior consultation with the Board, the Police Ombudsman' s Office, the Human Rights Commission, human rights NGOs and experts in the field.

The Board also endorsed the use of CS Spray before any agreement had been reached with the Police Ombudsman's office on how use would be investigated.

In general unionists on the Board expressed approval of CS Spray from the beginning. Certain independents and the SDLP expressed concerns. The burden is now on the latter to explain the failure to consult on the key issues of health and safety, the secrecy with which the decision was taken (the Police Board is refusing to divulge the minutes of the relevant meetings), and the scandalous process whereby approval was granted in the absence of guidelines and without allowance for any consultation on future guidelines.

Police Board press statement

CS Incapacitant Spray Endorsed

Thursday 6 February 2003

At its monthly meeting, the Northern Ireland Policing Board today (6 February) gave its endorsement to the proposal from the PSNI to introduce a CS Incapacitant Spray.

"Board Members received a full presentation on the proposal from the PSNI at the January meeting of the Corporate Policy Committee and considered all the implications associated with the introduction of this spray," the Chairman of the Northern Ireland Policing Board, Professor Desmond Rea, said.

"To be able to deliver effective and efficient policing, the police must have access to a range of equipment to deal with all types of situations. This spray can only be used in very particular circumstances and is not intended for use in serious public disorder.

"It is essential that the public has confidence in how the police deal with violent confrontations. The Board has sought assurances that stringent guidelines are in place for the use of CS Incapacitant Spray and that officers will be thoroughly trained in its use," Professor Rea said.