Are police breaking their own rules by using Tasers at Dale Farm?

Police guidance says that the stun guns should not be used for crowd control.

Evictions have begun at Dale Farm. In a morning characterised by violence, protesters and residents have set fire to caravans and thrown objects at the police. Perhaps most striking, however, is the fact that two protesters have been Tasered.

Tasers are stun guns, which fire needle-tipped darts up to 6m away to deliver a disabling, 50,000-volt shock. The dart can penetrate clothing up to two inches thick, and leaves the target incapacitated. The Arizona-based manufacturer, Taser International, says they are designed to temporarily stun a suspect to facilitate their arrest.

Until 2004, only firearms officers were allowed to use them, but in 2008, they were rolled out to all 43 police forces in England and their use increased by a third.

The stun guns have caused considerable controversy in Britain, with Amnesty International maintaining that they should only be used where lives are at risk.

Certainly, they should not be used for crowd control -- as the Association of Chief Police Officer's (ACPO) own guidelines states. Christian Papaleontiou of the Home Office's policing directorate reiterated this to MPs last year. Speaking to the home affairs select committee, he said:

We again support the ACPO guidance, which is very clear that Tasers should not be used in terms of a crowd control measure in public order scenarios.

On top of this, ACPO policy guidance on the use of Tasers, dated December 2008, specifies that Tasers must only be used

Where the authorising officer has reason to suppose that they, in the course of their duty, may have to protect the public, themselves and /or the subject(s) at incidents of violence or threats of violence of such severity that they will need to use force.

It is reasonable to extrapolate from this that Tasers should not be used against protesters. A statement by Essex Police said that officers had received "intelligence which informed the commanders that anyone entering the site was likely to come up against violence and a serious breach of the peace would occur". This suggests that their defence will be that the use of force was justified.

However, according to eyewitness reports, police used Tasers as soon as they entered the site (as seen in the picture above), implying that they began with an unnecessary level of aggression. Moreover, given that protestors' "missiles" were, in the words of the police, made up of "rocks and liquids", it is difficult to see how a 50,000-volt stun gun is a proportionate response.

 

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Who will win in Manchester Gorton?

Will Labour lose in Manchester Gorton?

The death of Gerald Kaufman will trigger a by-election in his Manchester Gorton seat, which has been Labour-held since 1935.

Coming so soon after the disappointing results in Copeland – where the seat was lost to the Tories – and Stoke – where the party lost vote share – some overly excitable commentators are talking up the possibility of an upset in the Manchester seat.

But Gorton is very different to Stoke-on-Trent and to Copeland. The Labour lead is 56 points, compared to 16.5 points in Stoke-on-Trent and 6.5 points in Copeland. (As I’ve written before and will doubtless write again, it’s much more instructive to talk about vote share rather than vote numbers in British elections. Most of the country tends to vote in the same way even if they vote at different volumes.)

That 47 per cent of the seat's residents come from a non-white background and that the Labour party holds every council seat in the constituency only adds to the party's strong position here. 

But that doesn’t mean that there is no interest to be had in the contest at all. That the seat voted heavily to remain in the European Union – around 65 per cent according to Chris Hanretty’s estimates – will provide a glimmer of hope to the Liberal Democrats that they can finish a strong second, as they did consistently from 1992 to 2010, before slumping to fifth in 2015.

How they do in second place will inform how jittery Labour MPs with smaller majorities and a history of Liberal Democrat activity are about Labour’s embrace of Brexit.

They also have a narrow chance of becoming competitive should Labour’s selection turn acrimonious. The seat has been in special measures since 2004, which means the selection will be run by the party’s national executive committee, though several local candidates are tipped to run, with Afzal Khan,  a local MEP, and Julie Reid, a local councillor, both expected to run for the vacant seats.

It’s highly unlikely but if the selection occurs in a way that irritates the local party or provokes serious local in-fighting, you can just about see how the Liberal Democrats give everyone a surprise. But it’s about as likely as the United States men landing on Mars any time soon – plausible, but far-fetched. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.