Police used stun guns on mentally ill patients 96 times in a year

Exclusive: electronic weapons also used on under-18s, UK data shows, but many forces fail to respond to FoI request

Mental health patients have had a stun gun drawn, aimed or fired at them almost 100 times in just over a year, the Guardian can reveal.

Data shows police officers in the UK were called to hospitals and other mental healthcare facilities where a stun gun was used 96 times since 1 April 2017, the date when forces were required to keep data on this.

One patient who had a stun gun fired at them by Greater Manchester police (GMP) was 16 years old. Figures showed the force also pointed a stun gun, with a red dot appearing, on a 14-year-old patient.

The government has said stun guns should be used only as a last resort, but campaigners argue vehemently against their use in such a setting.

Gracie Bradley, the policy and campaigns manager at the human rights organisation Liberty, said: “Given the pain, distress and serious health consequences electro-shock weapons can cause, it’s difficult to see how using them on vulnerable people seeking treatment in mental health hospitals could ever be appropriate or justified.

“[Stun guns] can and do kill, which is why they were initially restricted to use by firearms officers – but mission creep has seen them deployed well beyond that.”

The North Norfolk MP, Norman Lamb, said the UN defines stun gun use as potentially amounting to torture. “It’s seen as a way of avoiding force but this is not a risk-free option and it is particularly shocking when [stun guns] are used against teenagers.

“In my view, it is inappropriate to use them in a mental health setting. These are hospitals and people who are there are patients, not criminals.”


Only 28 police forces, about half of the total in the UK, provided figures after a freedom of information request, with many – including the Met, West Midlands and Staffordshire – citing cost limits for why they could not respond.

A number of police forces also said they were experiencing delays in responding to the request, which was submitted on 1 August. They were unable to say when a response would be provided.

This comes despite the fact the Home Office has requested that forces record this information in detail because they want to provide unprecedented accountability and transparency.

“The failure of so many forces to respond appropriately to this freedom of information is symptomatic of an apparent trend of forces quietly expanding their use of dangerous devices while avoiding proper scrutiny and public debate,” Bradley said.

Lamb added that it was “extraordinary” so few forces responded, noting that this information should be publicly available.

Of those that responded to the request in full, it was revealed that a stun gun was fired 21 times in the period recorded, with a number of patients injured as a result.

Of those who responded, the force that used a stun gun the most was Avon and Somerset, drawing, aiming or firing it 18 times, as well as Greater Manchester police, which also used it 18 times, including on under-18s.

The latter gave reasons for deploying a stun gun, which ranged from a patient being aggressive, disruptive and also “having a ward key”.

Supt Mark Dexter, of GMP’s specialist operations branch, said the force followed national guidelines, which were reviewed every time a stun gun was used. “The Taser [electronic weapon] can be a valuable and effective option for police officers dealing with potentially volatile situations … [deployment of it] is not taken lightly and is only used where it is absolutely necessary,” he said.

Police forces are required to record the outcome of stun gun use, as well as the ethnicity, age and whether the individual is perceived to be suffering from mental ill-health.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The government is clear that all police use of force must be lawful, necessary and reasonable in the circumstances. Use of force in mental health settings, including the use of Taser [electronic weapons], a form of conducted energy device, should only be used as a last resort. Where possible de-escalation techniques should always be the first response.”


Sarah Marsh

The GuardianTramp

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