Police threatened children with Tasers on more than 500 occasions last year
Police threatened children with Tasers on more than 500 occasions last year, according to a new report published today by the Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE). Tasers were fired at children in 43 separate instances including one involving a child as young as 12 years old.
The CRAE’s State of Children’s Rights in England 2016 reports a 25% increase in the use of Taser on children (under 18 years) between 2013 and 2015. According to figures gathered through FOI requests made to 44 police forces in England and Wales that in 2015, Tasers were used against children ‘at least 538 times’ and on 147 occasions they were used were against children 15 years or younger. In 2013 Tasers were used against children 431 times.
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has called for the use of Tasers on children to be banned and the CRAE argues that threatening their use can cause children ‘immense fear and distress’.
According to the group, some 22,792 children were held overnight in police custody last year including one eight year old. The CRAE reckons that this high number is largely down to the failure to transfer children from police custody to local authority accommodation after they have been charged.
Under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 when a juvenile is detained at a police station, the police should move them to local authority accommodation unless it is ‘impracticable’ to do so. There is a corresponding obligation on local authorities to receive these children under the Children Act. The legal charity Just for Kids Law has highlighted the issue as part of their #NoChildinCells campaign. There is a test case currently being taken behalf of a vulnerable 14 year old boy (as reported on the Justice Gap here).
The report also flagged up the rising use ‘spit hoods’ on children, mesh bags with a drawstring to tighten it which are put over the head. Of 40 police forces in England, 17 currently use spit hoods – the Metropolitan Police and Greater Manchester Police do not although last month the Met announced a pilot.
Last year the restraints were used on at least 12 children and in the first nine months of 2016 at least 24 children in England had been hooded, according to the CRAE. According to the group, ‘none of the policies or risk assessments supplied by police forces using spit hoods include specific reference to potential dangers or risks of using them on children’.
Last year the Home office confirmed in response to a freedom of information request by the Justice Gap revealed that two-thirds of all people Tasered by the police in England and Wales between 2010 and 2014 were identified as mentally ill (see here).
Sophie (not her real name), an 11 year old girl with a rare neurological disability similar to autism, was hooded, restrained and detained in police custody for a total of more than 60 hours. Sophie’s condition means she can become upset when over-stimulated and can sometimes spit out of frustration. Between February and March 2012 she was detained in police stations by Sussex Police on four separate occasions: once under the Mental Health Act and three times for minor offences committed after she became distressed.
Her mother said: ‘It was very traumatic for Sophie to be hooded by police officers. Due to her disability she finds it very upsetting to have someone even touch her head. Having strangers put a bag over her head when she was already extremely distressed was profoundly shocking for her.’
Sophie was twice held in cells overnight but the police refused to let her mother see her. Even though she spent over 60 hours in custody on four separate occasions, Sussex police repeatedly failed to provide Sophie with an appropriate adult: despite the clear legal requirement that officers must ask for one to attend a police station to support a child as soon as possible after their detention.
In June 2016 the IPCC found 11 officers and one police staff member had cases to answer for misconduct and criticised a ’widespread failure by Sussex police officers to document their use of force in relation to [Sophie]’ adding: ‘using force on a person so young and vulnerable is a grave occurrence.’
In response, Sussex police said it has updated its training on the use of spit hoods. The force has not changed its policy to ensure officers are prohibited from using spit hoods on children.’
State of Children’s Rights in England 2016
Jon is editor of the Justice Gap. He is a freelance journalist. Jon's books include The First Miscarriage of Justice (Waterside Press, 2014), The Justice Gap (LAG, 2009) and People Power (Daily Telegraph/LawPack, 2008). Jon is a journalism lecturer at Winchester University and a visiting senior fellow in access to justice at the University of Lincoln. He is twice winner of the Bar Council's journalism award (2015 and 2005) and is shortlisted for this year's Criminal Justice Alliance's journalism award