Police Cleared Of Using Force To Prevent Self-Harming Woman

The PSNI has been cleared of using pepper spray, TASERs and impact rounds to prevent a woman from harming herself with a knife in east Belfast.

Police Ombudsman Marie Anderson found that police had adopted a graduated and justified response when dealing with the vulnerable woman on 06 November 2018.

The situation emerged when a member of the public reported that the woman had been seen walking near train lines in the late afternoon.

Crouching close to a train line with a knife held to her throat, officers on the scene employed the use of pepper spray, a TASER and impact rounds to manage the situation and force her to drop the knife.

Neither the individual, nor her family, made any complaint about the use of force by police.

An investigation was launched, however, after the Chief Constable notified the watchdog that firearms had been used.

Police Ombudsman Marie Anderson reviewed evidence from officer interviews, police records, Body Worn Video footage and police radio transmissions before finding that a graduated and justified response had been used, with greater levels of force only employed when lesser options had failed.
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Police on the scene had tried to speak to the woman but received no response for around two hours, during which time she had crouched down against a wall close to the rail line with her head bowed and the knife held to her throat.

With concerns about her "barely noticeable" breathing and lack of reaction to the changing weather conditions, road traffic in the area was stopped as trained police negotiators tried to encourage her to drop the knife.

A police Tactical Firearms Commander (TFC), who had been monitoring the situation as it unfolded, then authorised the use of PAVA pepper spray. An initial use of the spray proved ineffective, as did a second from a different angle.

The TFC then approved the use of a TASER, but the woman did not react to the first use of the weapon, nor a second subsequent discharge.

Officers were then authorised to use AEP (Attenuated Energy Projectile) impact rounds. They fired a first round which struck the woman but produced no apparent response.

A second round was then fired by another officer. It struck the woman, who then opened her hand and dropped the knife.

Police officers provided immediate aftercare before ambulance staff took over and transported the woman to hospital.

The woman's family later reported that she had sustained extensive bruising as a result of the AEP discharges but suffered no lasting injuries.

The Ombudsman concluded that police had used force with the aim of protecting life and found their actions to have been reasonable, proportionate and in compliance with legislation and police guidelines.


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