04:49, July 06 80 0 theguardian.com

2017-07-06 04:49:03
Metropolitan police extend controversial spit hood trial across London

A trial of the controversial police spit hoods, which came to national attention after one was used on an innocent man during an arrest last year, has been extended across the whole of London, Scotland Yard has said.

Officers said an initial smaller pilot in the north-east of the capital had been successful but was too limited.

The police watchdog is investigating British Transport Police’s use of a spit hood on Ik Aihie, who was arrested in London Bridge station in July 2016. He was filmed screaming as he was held down by officers, who put the hood over his head. Aihie said he had been left “bruised and shaken” and a witness said he had been treated “like a dog”.

He was never charged with anything and a caution issued to him was later revoked.

Use of the hoods has been claimed to breach a suspect’s rights. The Met argues they offer reasonable protection to officers against people trying to spit at and bite them.

The force plans to extend the use of the hoods to all custody suites in the capital, though their use was restricted on the streets from the outset. It said it had “discussed these plans with partner organisations, community representatives and independent groups, as well as magistrates”.

On Thursday, the force said the initial trial had suggested that the spit guards were an “effective, proportionate and necessary piece of equipment when deployed correctly and with appropriate supervision”. It said the mayor of London had agreed to the extension.

“The Met has a duty of care to its officers and staff – the issue of spitting and biting is a real problem and a particularly unpleasant form of assault which rightly generates a lot of concern amongst officers. Aside from the fact that as an employer the Met cannot expect its staff to be spat at, or think this is acceptable, some of the follow-up treatment required after such an assault can be prolonged and unpleasant.

“Over a number of years, the Met has been looking at potential ways of minimising the threat this issue poses to officers and staff. One of the options that has been considered is spit guards. Spit guards are a nationally approved piece of police personal safety equipment and are already used by 22 forces across the UK.”

The human rights group Liberty has called the hoods “primitive, cruel and degrading”. Speaking as the Met launched its trial last September, the group’s director, Martha Spurrier, said: “We have seen many cases where the police use them unnecessarily and without justification, including on children and disabled people.

“Police have the power to use force against citizens when they have to – using handcuffs, arm restraints, leg restraints, pepper spray, batons. The suggestion that officers need to be able to cover people’s faces and heads is as far-fetched as it is frightening. Spit hoods belong in horror stories, not on the streets of a civilised society.”