Thursday, September 24, 1998 Published at 18:06 GMT 19:06 UK
Safety fears prompt CS spray review
Police have used CS spray more than 10,000 times
The government has ordered a safety review of CS spray used by the police.
The Department of Health has asked an independent panel of experts to investigate how safe the spray is when used to quell aggressive suspects.
CS gas has been used more than 10,000 times since it was introduced in the UK in 1996.
But several cases have caused controversy, notably its use on a pensioner suffering from Alzheimer's disease.
Last year Humberside police officers used CS spray on Max Incera, 73, who they arrested at a care home in Hull where he was a resident.
Mr Incera, who has behavioural problems because of his illness, was also handcuffed and held in police cells for several hours.
In June a Bedfordshire traffic policeman who squirted CS spray into the face of a pensioner parked on double-yellow lines was cleared of assault.
The constable said the 67-year-old man had been unco-operative, abusive and threatening.
And there were reports in September of several innocent bystanders, including a four-year-old girl, being caught by the spray which can cause skin blistering and sore eyes.
The Police Complaints Authority has urged officers not to use CS spray just to make arrests easier and warned of an impending backlash against its use.
A Department of Health spokesman said: "We're concerned not so much with the use to which the spray is put but its likely medical and health effects on anyone who receives it."
Home Office minister Alun Michael said the decision to review the spray's safety was a positive move, but insisted it was still an effective self-defence tool for police officers.
He said: "CS spray has been scientifically tested to a level similar to that which would be required for a new pharmaceutical drug, and there is no evidence that it poses any significant threat to human health.
"Scrutiny by the Committees on Toxicity and Mutagenicity will provide independent review of the safety of CS."