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: André Spicer
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“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.


Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.