Families urge ban on English police Taser use against people in distress

Relatives of people who died say electrical weapons should not be used on those in mental health crisis

The families of people who died after being Tasered by police in England have called for a ban on the use of electrical weapons against people in mental health crises.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) said on Wednesday that there was a pattern of more excessive Tasering against people in distress, and black people were more likely to be Tasered for prolonged periods than white people.

Lisa Cole, whose brother Marc Cole, 30, was Tasered for a total of 43 seconds in 2017 while experiencing a mental health crisis and self-harming, said authorities were not taking concerns over electrical weapons seriously. An inquest jury found Cole had not been aggressive or posed a threat.

Marc Cole
Marc Cole died after being Tasered three times by police in Cornwall in 2017. Photograph: Inquest

“They should immediately ban the repeated and prolonged use of Taser against people clearly exhibiting the symptoms of mental ill health until and if they have robust medical data showing that it is safe,” she said. “But you had the home secretary, Priti Patel, telling police officers get out there and ‘really zap the bad people’ earlier this year.”

A call from the coroner in Marc Cole’s inquest for police to review repeated Tasering was rejected. Lisa Cole said the issues raised by the IOPC report, which contains a number of non-binding recommendations for police, should be cause to reopen inquiries.

The IOPC concluded that the performance of the officers who dealt with her brother did not fall below expected standards. “We’re demanding an urgent review and robust reinvestigations because we feel they were flawed,” Cole said. “I don’t believe ex-police officers should be working for the IOPC either. Until that happens, we won’t have any faith in them. There need to be real structural changes.”

The IOPC reviewed 101 of the most high-profile police electrical weapons incidents investigated since 2015, 16 of which led to a death. In the cases of Cole, Darren Cumberbatch, Adrian McDonald and Jordan Begley, inquests found that the use of Taser contributed to or were relevant to their deaths.

Adrian McDonald
Adrian McDonald died in 2014 after being Tasered for 24 seconds while having a mental health crisis. Photograph: Inquest

McDonald, 34, died in 2014 after having a police dog set upon him and being Tasered for 24 seconds while experiencing a mental health crisis. His mother, Germaine Phillips, said the IOPC report had “rubbed in” a lack of justice.

“As a mother, it’s the injustice and the unaccountability that just breaks your heart again and again,” she said. “I don’t think the IOPC have got the backbone to stand up and tell the police: ‘You’ve done wrong.’ I think they’ve got to be very careful.

“It’s all a stitch-up. These reports are effectively just to say: ‘Well, we’ve done that, so shut up now and go sit down.’ This has just rubbed it in.”

An inquest found that McDonald died from the “effects of cocaine and stress of incident”, after a police dog left bites on his arm and leg that went through the skin and fat into the muscle. He had barricaded himself inside a room at a party.

“The case went to the Crown Prosecution Service but nothing went to court,” Philips said. The two officers involved were found guilty of misconduct by an internal police disciplinary panel but were cleared of all charges by a tribunal.

Darren Cumberbatch
Darren Cumberbatch was Tasered, punched, beaten and sprayed with CS gas. Photograph: Inquest

Carla Cumberbatch, whose brother Darren in 2017 was Tasered three times, punched up to 15 times, beaten with a baton, sprayed with CS gas, stamped on and handcuffed as he also experienced a mental health crisis, hit out at how officers involved in the death had not faced disciplinary consequences.

“All I see is them protecting themselves,” she said. “Who is there to protect us, the public? We’ve already had numerous shoddy reports and unimplemented recommendations since the Macpherson review. Our families are ending up ruined from fighting for justice against a system built against us.”


Mattha Busby

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Man paralysed after being shot by police with Taser weapon vows to get justice
Jordan Walker-Brown, from London, says officers stopped him because he is black

Diane Taylor

24, Jun, 2020 @4:50 PM

Article image
Taser deaths investigated by police watchdog
Spotlight on restraint tactics as Phillip Hulmes, 53, becomes third person in eight days to die after being shot with the stun gun

Helen Carter and Sandra Laville

24, Aug, 2011 @7:36 PM

Article image
Police used Taser on man in epileptic seizure

IPCC studying claims of excessive force used by Greater Manchester police on man who became aggressive during fit

Helen Carter

13, Apr, 2010 @6:30 PM

Article image
Campaigners raise concerns over increased police Taser use
Mistaken deployment of Taser on Chorley blind man and other incidents spark calls for more police control and restraint

Helen Carter

21, Oct, 2012 @4:44 PM

Article image
London man who died after being shot with Taser was holding firelighter
Watchdog says police statement suggesting Oladeji Adeyemi Omishore was ‘armed with a screwdriver’ is incorrect

Vikram Dodd Police and crime correspondent

21, Jun, 2022 @6:04 PM

Article image
Taser-related deaths raise concerns over 'non-lethal' police options
Campaign group Inquest believes there is a worrying increase in deaths as result of police restraint tactics

Sandra Laville, crime correspondent

24, Aug, 2011 @7:37 PM

Article image
Police watchdog calls for Taser guidance after inquest into fire death
IPCC recommends that officers be given more comprehensive guidance about use of stun guns in the presence of flammable liquids

Steven Morris

01, Oct, 2015 @5:47 PM

Article image
Black people more likely to be Tasered for longer, police watchdog finds
Police chiefs attack report by Independent Office for Police Conduct as vague and out of date

Vikram Dodd Crime correspondent

25, Aug, 2021 @5:18 PM

Article image
Man shot with Taser electronic weapon by police in Cornwall dies
Investigation launched into death of man, who also sustained self-inflicted knife injuries in incident in Falmouth

Alice Ross and agencies

24, May, 2017 @2:52 PM

Article image
The Guardian view on police Taser use: time to tighten up the rules | Editorial
Editorial: The sad death of the former football star Dalian Atkinson highlights the need to get a grip on the use of ‘less lethal’ weapons that can still cause avoidable fatalities


16, Aug, 2016 @6:40 PM