8th Sept 2016
A plan to pilot the use of spit hoods by the Met Police has been abandoned after London’s mayor voiced concerns.
The mesh fabric hoods are placed over the heads of suspects to protect police officers from being spat at or bitten.
The restraining device was to be trialled at 32 custody suites across the capital from October.
Mayor Sadiq Khan responded after human rights groups including Liberty, Amnesty and Inquest said the hoods belonged in “horror stories”.
A City Hall spokesman told the BBC the mayor asked the Met to pause the pilot scheme to give him an opportunity to look at the detail and to consult with the wider public as well as the police themselves.
‘Spitting a real problem’
In a statement, the Met said: “The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) does not currently use spit guards, although their national use and development has been closely monitored for a number of years.
“There are now a number of forces where spit guards are used both operationally in response to incidents and in custody.
“The MPS has a duty of care to its officers and staff – the issue of spitting and biting is a real problem, particularly in a custody environment, and is a significant health risk.
“Over a number of years, the MPS has been looking at potential ways of minimising the threat this issue poses to officers and staff.
“One of the options that has been considered has been spit guards in custody suites.”
Earlier Martha Spurrier, director of Liberty, called the use of spit hoods “primitive, cruel and degrading ” adding their use would inspire “fear and anguish”.
“Police have the power to use force against citizens when they have to – using handcuffs, arm restraints, leg restraints, pepper spray, batons,” she said.
“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.”
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 former senior Met officer 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”.