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9 August 2016, 07:06
A Sussex mum wants the use of spit hoods banned after one was used on her daughter by Sussex Police.
The mother of a girl with learning difficulties who was placed in a spit hood by Sussex Police at the age 11 has launched an online petition in a bid to get the force to stop using the device on children.
An Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) investigation into the treatment of the girl, who has a neurological condition manifesting in symptoms similar to autism, was critical of the police force. The IPCC concluded that officers failed to appoint an appropriate adult to support the girl, known as 'Child H' for legal reasons, and that officers failed to record the reason they used handcuffs, leg restraints and spit hoods on the child.
The girl's mother instructed specialist civil liberties lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to help investigate what happened to her daughter and she has now also launched a petition in a bid to stop Sussex Police using spit hoods on children.
"I'd never heard of a spit hood until one was used on my daughter. Sussex Police allows officers to use the device on anyone, regardless of whether they are a hardened criminal or an 11-year-old disabled girl.
"My daughter's experience was extremely traumatic for her and it only served to exacerbate the behaviour associated with her disability. She still hasn't fully recovered from the ordeal, which also saw her held by the police for more than 60 hours.
"I hope that the petition will be supported by others and Sussex Police will reconsider its decision to continue to allow officers to use spit hoods on children."
Gus Silverman, an expert civil liberties solicitor at Irwin Mitchell representing the family:
He also said:
"A number of police forces in the UK, including large forces such as the Merseyside Police and West Midlands Police, do not allow officers to use spit hoods on adults, let alone children with significant disabilities.
"The IPCC's findings following its investigation into the treatment my client received indicate a clear need for improvements in the way Sussex Police respond to disabled children. By continuing to allow its officers to hood children the force risks undermining the improvements it claims to have made to the way it responses to young people following this case."
"The police, of course, do a difficult and important job and it is right that they should have the equipment they need, but hooding children is a step too far, particularly in the absence of clear evidence that these devices are a necessary or proportionate way of protecting officers. Sussex Police need to explain why they consider it appropriate to hood children when other forces won't even use spit hoods on adults."
Sussex Police have responded:
Deputy Chief Constable Bernie O'Reilly said:
"We are sorry for the distress we caused and for the time the child spent in custody without the support of an appropriate adult. We should have supported her better and for that we apologise. However, the use of the spit guard was upheld by the IPCC in their investigation - they felt it was proportionate in the circumstances.
The spit guards are made of transparent mesh cloth and when they are used it is explained why and the person is spoken to throughout.
"We will be referring the concerns raised by the family regarding spit guards to the National College of Policing, particular in relation to young people."