The Police Ombudsman has concluded that police were justified in using CS spray against juveniles during incidents in Ballymena, at a Co. Down children’s home and in Derry/Londonderry between May last year and February 2016.
All uses of the spray against those aged 18 or under are referred by the Chief Constable to the Police Ombudsman for independent investigation.
The first incident happened in Ballymena in May last year when a 17-year-old youth tried to enter a house where police were recovering property following a reported burglary.
The officer who used the spray said the youth came towards him with his fists clenched and ignored several warnings before being sprayed.
The youth later lodged a complaint that he had sustained an eye injury when police forced his face against the ground during his arrest.
However, police accounts that the youth had a noticeable face injury before his arrest were backed up by a civilian witness.
The spray was used again at a Co Down children’s home in January this year after police responded to a report of two male youths damaging equipment and furniture at a local children’s home.
Staff at the home told officers that the youths – aged 15 and 17 – had smashed an alarm system, broke glass in doors, destroyed furniture and flooded a corridor, before using a wardrobe to barricade themselves in a room with three female residents.
They also advised that the youths may have had weapons, believed to be chair or table legs with protruding nails or screws.
Officers told Police Ombudsman investigators that they discussed with staff different possibilities for resolving the situation, before agreeing that CS Spray would be used if the disorderly behaviour continued.
An officer who attempted to enter the room, said a youth swiped at him with a metal bar, believed to be a table leg.
He said the youths were then told to put any weapons down and come out of the room, and were warned several times that CS Spray would be used if they did not comply.
When this was ignored, an officer pushed his way into the room and used the spray, which then allowed officers to restrain the two boys, before providing aftercare and taking them into police custody.
Staff from the home confirmed the police account of the incident and said they had no concerns about the way in which the officers had dealt with it.
CS Spray was again used in Derry/Londonderry in February this year as officers arrested a 17-year-old boy who had been detained by a member of the public after breaking a shop window.
The officers involved said the youth became violent and screamed wildly when they tried to restrain him. They added that they were conscious that a crowd of youths had gathered nearby, and were concerned that if the situation continued, the crowd would attack.
The officer who used CS Spray said its use allowed officers to restrain the youth and apply handcuffs. Another officer said he too had drawn his CS Spray but had decided not to use it once he realised it had been used by his colleague.
The member of the public who reported the incident to police confirmed that the youth had been acting aggressively and resisting police prior to the use of CS Spray.
The Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, noted that the officers who used the spray were all properly trained in its use, and concluded that their actions had been lawful, necessary and proportionate.