UK police ponder using CS gas against rioters

LONDON (Reuters) - Police are considering whether to use CS gas, water canon or taser stun guns in future to deal with riots on the scale of last summer’s disorder, a report into the trouble published on Wednesday said.

Riot police stand guard as they prepare to remove protesters from the Occupy encampment on the steps of St Paul's Cathedral in London February 28, 2012. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

The review into the riots, the worst in Britain for decades, said London’s Police (MPS) was now looking at using “more assertive” tactics to deal with disorder after admitting there were times when the police response had let people down.

Last August’s riots began in Tottenham, north London, after officers shot dead a local man and then spread across the capital and to cities around England.

Five people died and scores were injured during five nights of violence that only ended when police flooded the streets.

“The MPS acknowledges that there are examples of the public feeling let down where police were not immediately able to come to their aid or prevent the destruction of property,” said the review, titled “4 Days in August”.

“This was mainly because there were not enough officers to deal with the unprecedented scale and geographical spread of the disorder.”

As part of improving their response, the review said police were now discussing whether to buy three water cannon vehicles which would be located across England and Wales to allow all forces access to one in time of need.

Currently, forces have to rely on water cannon based in Northern Ireland.

However, although senior officers say water cannon would have been effective in dealing with violent demonstrations, such as during student protests in 2010, they have expressed doubts about how effective water cannon would be during riots.

“It is the opinion of this review that had it been available for use, it would have been considered as a tactical option during this disorder,” the review said.

“However it is unlikely to have been an appropriate and practical option owing to the speed and agility of the disorder.”

Similar doubts have also been raised about other tactics such as CS gas and taser guns. Baton rounds were actively considered last August and the MPS is pondering whether to make them more readily available.

The review said CS gas, which has never been deployed on the British mainland, would only be used as a last resort, as it could affect innocent people, have a negative impact on crowd mood and damage community confidence.

“The summer was without precedent and as a result stretched the MPS beyond all anticipated capability,” said Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley.

“However I accept this will be of little comfort for those who were victim to the violence, looting and arson. I want to do everything possible to help prevent the MPS, and more importantly Londoners, from being in that position again.”