Concerns have been raised over extreme techniques used by police to arrest suspects after the deaths of three people in custody during the past eight days.
Investigations have been launched following the deaths of two men this week during separate arrest attempts in Cheshire and Bolton in which Tasers and pepper spray were deployed. Last week a Cumbrian body builder, Dale Burns, became the first person in Britain to die after being subdued by a Taser. Officers shot him three times with a 50,000-volt stun gun.
On Monday, a 25-year-old amateur rugby enthusiast, Jacob Michael, collapsed and died after he was hit in the face with pepper spray and later subdued by up to 11 officers as he tried to avoid arrest for affray.
The following night Great Manchester Police officers were forced to use a Taser to subdue Philip Hulmes, a 53-year-old truck driver from Bolton, who had locked himself in his house. Mr Hulmes had reportedly begun stabbing himself in the stomach when police broke into his house; they stunned him because he was still violent, they said. He later died in hospital.
The deaths come at a time when Tasers are becoming an increasingly common restraining technique. Although deployment of stun guns varies enormously within each of England and Wales’ 43 constabularies, overall use is up significantly. Home Office figures show that Tasers were deployed 1,279 times over a three-month period between January and March 2010 compared to 594 times between April to June 2009.
Sophie Khan, a London-based lawyer with GT Stewart Solicitors, told The Independent: “I believe Tasers are being used far too readily by police forces. There needs to be a recognition that Tasers are a lethal weapon and should only be used in very limited circumstances, if at all.”
The Independent Police Complaints Commission is currently investigating all three deaths. The police have long insisted that Tasers are a much safer alternative to live ammunition in subduing violent or armed suspects.
Until last week no one in Britain had died following the deployment of a Taser. In America, since 2001 Amnesty International has recorded the deaths of more than 460 people after they were struck with a Taser.
A spokeswoman for Amnesty said yesterday. “The tragic death of Philip Hulmes which has occurred just days after Dale Burns died after being shocked by a Taser reaffirms Amnesty International’s concerns that these weapons are potentially lethal.”
Appealing for calm following the death of Mr Michael in Widnes, Philip Thompson, an Assistant Chief Constable of Cheshire, said yesterday: “The detailed post-mortem examination found no physical injuries on Jacob that could be attributable to a cause of his death. There is no evidence that the use of pepper spray was a contributory factor to Mr Michael becoming unwell or a cause of his death.”