Scotland Yard says it has launched a fresh consultation on the possible use of spit guards in custody suites.
The guards cover a detainee’s face and make it impossible for them to bite or spit on officers, thereby substantially reducing the risk of infection with hepatitis, TB and other diseases.
Opponents say the guards – also known as spit hoods – breach a suspect’s rights. Martha Spurrier, director of Liberty, has previously described them as “a primitive, cruel and degrading tool that inspires fear and anguish.”
However the Met says they are essential to protecting frontline officers from “a particularly unpleasant form of assault” which can have longterm health implications.
22 police forces in the UK, including the British Transport Police which protects London’s Tube and mainline rail services, are known to already use the guards and the Met had been due to start trials earlier this year following consultation with local community liaison groups.
However plans for the trial were halted following objections from London Mayor Sadiq Khan who, it later emerged, only learned of them from media coverage despite public discussions dating back to February.
The new City Hall administration’s lack of knowledge led some members of the London Assembly’s Police and Crime Committee to accuse Mr Khan’s policing deputy, Sophie Linden, of failing to get on top of her job and leaving the Mayor under-briefed.
Both Linden and Khan insisted that no trials could go ahead before a fuller public consultation, a stance questioned by Labour AM Jennette Arnold who said any consultation “cannot be about whether you use them” but should instead be limited about how their use is recorded and monitored.
Arnold, a former nurse, said she knew from first hand experience of treating patients with hepatitis just how dangerous the disease was and said protecting officers was a basic “health and safety” duty from which senior officers and political leaders could not resile.
Today the Met confirmed it was now consulting with “partner organisations, community representatives and independent groups, as well as magistrates across north-east London” about a new trial in five boroughs.
If approved the three month trials would take place in custody suites in Newham, Redbridge, Barking and Dagenham, Waltham Forest and Havering.
The results of the trial would then be assessed by the Met and Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime to determine whether to expand the use of spit guards to other custody suites.