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.

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The economics of outrage: Why you haven't seen the end of Katie Hopkins

Her distasteful tweet may have cost her a job at LBC, but this isn't the last we've seen of Britain's biggest troll. 

Another atrocity, other surge of grief and fear, and there like clockwork was the UK’s biggest troll. Hours after the explosion at the Manchester Arena that killed 22 mostly young and female concert goers, Katie Hopkins weighed in with a very on-brand tweet calling for a “final solution” to the complex issue of terrorism.

She quickly deleted it, replacing the offending phrase with the words “true solution”, but did not tone down the essentially fascist message. Few thought it had been an innocent mistake on the part of someone unaware of the historical connotations of those two words.  And no matter how many urged their fellow web users not to give Hopkins the attention she craved, it still sparked angry tweets, condemnatory news articles and even reports to the police.

Hopkins has lost her presenting job at LBC radio, but she is yet to lose her column at Mail Online, and it’s quite likely she won’t.

Mail Online and its print counterpart The Daily Mail have regularly shown they are prepared to go down the deliberately divisive path Hopkins was signposting. But even if the site's managing editor Martin Clarke was secretly a liberal sandal-wearer, there are also very good economic reasons for Mail Online to stick with her. The extreme and outrageous is great at gaining attention, and attention is what makes money for Mail Online.

It is ironic that Hopkins’s career was initially helped by TV’s attempts to provide balance. Producers could rely on her to provide a counterweight to even the most committed and rational bleeding-heart liberal.

As Patrick Smith, a former media specialist who is currently a senior reporter at BuzzFeed News points out: “It’s very difficult for producers who are legally bound to be balanced, they will sometimes literally have lawyers in the room.”

“That in a way is why some people who are skirting very close or beyond the bounds of taste and decency get on air.”

But while TV may have made Hopkins, it is online where her extreme views perform best.  As digital publishers have learned, the best way to get the shares, clicks and page views that make them money is to provoke an emotional response. And there are few things as good at provoking an emotional response as extreme and outrageous political views.

And in many ways it doesn’t matter whether that response is negative or positive. Those who complain about what Hopkins says are also the ones who draw attention to it – many will read what she writes in order to know exactly why they should hate her.

Of course using outrageous views as a sales tactic is not confined to the web – The Daily Mail prints columns by Sarah Vine for a reason - but the risks of pushing the boundaries of taste and decency are greater in a linear, analogue world. Cancelling a newspaper subscription or changing radio station is a simpler and often longer-lasting act than pledging to never click on a tempting link on Twitter or Facebook. LBC may have had far more to lose from sticking with Hopkins than Mail Online does, and much less to gain. Someone prepared to say what Hopkins says will not be out of work for long. 

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