19 January 2006

Schoolboy burned in CS gas incident


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CS spray skin burns

The PSNI have been condemned for using CS spray on a 15-year-old Lenadoon boy leaving him with burns to his neck.
The debilitating spray was used by the PSNI when arresting three teenagers after the PSNI claimed they came under attack from stone throwers gathered on the Shaws Road last Saturday night.
St Mary’s schoolboy, Owen Fitzpatrick, was one of those arrested and sustained burns and blistering to his neck from the CS spray.
Owen denies being involved in stone throwing, and says that he was arrested for disorderly behaviour after refusing to leave the scene of his friend’s arrest.
During a struggle with PSNI officers in an alleyway near Corrib Avenue, he claims that an officer sprayed him from point blank range while others restrained him.
“There were two [PSNI officers] holding me and another one was spraying me. It was point blank. He was right up in my face and neck.
“He kept spraying me and spraying me,” said Owen.
The teen says that the burn caused by the spray was so painful that he had to attend his doctor on Monday, who prescribed cream for it.
“The blistering came out last night [Sunday] and I’m still in pain. It’s a burning sensation and it has kept me from sleeping.”
Owen’s mother, Christine Fitzpatrick, is furious at the use of the spray and has lodged a complaint about the incident with the Police Ombudsman’s office.
“I was angry when I saw him. I was even sneezing and coughing and my face started to burn with him just standing beside me.
“I don’t think that the spray should be used on anybody, and definitely not a 15-year-old child,” she said.
A spokesperson for the PSNI confirmed that CS spray had been used during the three arrests, however she said she was unable to comment on individual cases.
Owen was released without charge, but a report has been sent to the prosecution service.
Internal PSNI guidelines say that the spray should not be held within one metre of the person being sprayed:
“Optimum accuracy… will be achieved over a distance of 1.25 to 2 metres... The spray should not be used... at a distance of less than 1 metre…or on a subject who is restrained or handcuffed.”
The guidelines remain silent on the issue of using the spray on minors.
The Police Ombudsman’s office says that ages are considered in deciding whether the PSNI’s use of the spray amounts to an assault.
“In general terms, the use of CS spray should be proportionate to the circumstances which includes age and vulnerability of those people against whom it was used.”
On Monday the Andersonstown News reported that 10-year-old Peter Tubridy and his 12-year-old friend, Stephen Connolly, also suffered from the effects of the CS spray when it was used on an adult standing nearby.
Upper Falls Sinn Féin councillor Gerard O’Neill has called for the immediate removal of CS spray from the PSNI.
“The PSNI should stop using it.
“Quite clearly they are using it in a reckless manner and there doesn’t seem to be any control of it.
“Is there any research being conducted into its effects?
“No regard is given to the long-term implications of using this spray.”
There were 73 complaints made to the Police Ombudsman regarding the use of CS spray across the North in 2005 – six of which were in West Belfast.
Up until the end of 2004 the Ombudsman automatically investigated every use of CS spray by the PSNI, but now they only investigate its use when a complaint has been lodged.
“This is very worrying,” continued Cllr O’Neill. “It wouldn’t surprise me if there was an increase in its use now that it is not being monitored.”

Journalist:: Damien McCarney

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