The PSNI have been using CS gas nearly every day on average since a hand-held spray form was introduced three years ago, it has been revealed.
To date there have been 241 complaints made to the Police Ombudsman regarding use of the debilitating tear gas, which induces vomiting, breathing difficulty, ‘burning’ skin and more enduring health problems.
The highest number of recorded uses of CS spray is in republican north Belfast, where officers have used the chemical on 103 separate occasions since its introduction.
Paul O’Connor of the Pat Finucane human rights centre in Derry said he feels the public were “duped” into thinking that all uses of the gas would automatically be investigated.
“We are quite concerned about a number of specific complaints currently pending and these not limited to one section of the community,” he said.
“The public were originally led to believe all uses of CS spray would be investigated by the ombudsman - it was only after its introduction we were told this was time limited.
“Guidelines for the use of the spray are about as clear as mud.
“There is nothing to say a person cannot be sprayed whilst restrained for instance.
“These figures show an alarmingly high level of CS gas use which is very worrying.”
SEE NO EVIL
Meanwhile, the PSNI has been criticised for refusing to acknowledge a series of sectarian incidents in the North.
The former RUC was notorious for refusing to designate attacks against Catholics as sectarian when the evidence states otherwise. The PSNI is now being accused of adopting this tactic again, and indirectly helping to conceal the dangers of sectarian attack.
In the Glengormley area of north Belfast, a 20-year-old Catholic man was recently attacked by two loyalists as he walked home, but the PSNI chose not to identify the nature of the assault.
“Some people think that the bad days are over and that young people are now safe walking the streets alone, but unfortunately it appears those bad days aren’t over yet,” said local priest, Fr Dan White.
Also last week, another local priest, Fr Aidan Troy, accused the PSNI of treating a pregnant woman like a “criminal” after her home was attacked by a unionist gang.
Michelle O’Connor, who is three months pregnant, was awoken by the sound of breaking glass at her home in the early hours.
“We thought it was someone breaking in but when we went downstairs we found someone had smashed a window and thrown paint all around the living room,” she said.
“When my husband Joe went outside he found that they had smashed the windows in our car and had also attacked a pensioner’s home across from us, who is deaf.”
Michelle said the trauma of the attack was worsened by the actions of the PSNI.
“The first thing they asked was my name and date of birth.
“Then they asked if I had any enemies and if I had ever attacked Protestant homes.
“I was made to feel like I had done something wrong.”
When Fr Troy arrived at the scene hours after the PSNI visit he found the hammer used to smash the O’Connors’ window and paint covered surgical gloves still lying on the road.
It was only when he contacted a senior inspector that they returned to recover the potentially vital evidence.
In this instance, the PSNI said they were simply investigating an act of “criminal damage”, with no reference given to the motivation behind the damage inflicted.