Met Police used force thousands of times on self-described or possibly pregnant women
An FOI revealed that between January 2018 and June 2021, there were 2,556 occasions when incapacitant spray or force was recorded as being used on self-described or possibly pregnant women and girls.
The figures will no doubt cause increased concern as the force is already facing accusations of a culture of misogyny, with commissioner Dame Cressida Dick put “on notice” by mayor of London Sadiq Khan.
They revealed that between January 2018 and June 2021, there were 2,556 occasions when incapacitant spray or force was recorded on risk assessments as being used on self-described pregnant or possibly pregnant women and girls.
A Taser was fired on three occasions prior to arrival in custody.
In total, the Met made 4,117 arrests of self-described pregnant or possibly pregnant women over this period, a stat which means that more than half of recorded interactions with these women involved some use of force.
This ranges from compliant handcuffing and the drawing of a baton, to the use of dogs, irritant spray, body restraints, spit hoods and Tasers.
Other records showed that between January 2018 and June 2021, spit hoods (full face coverings made of mesh and plastic used to prevent a suspect from spitting, biting or coughing at arresting officers) were used 302 times by the Met on women who said they were pregnant or possibly pregnant.
The devices are considered controversial, with Dame Cressida previously saying they said should only be used in custody suites and not during arrest.
The Met could not confirm with accuracy whether or not the women subjected to incapacitant spray or spit hoods told officers they were pregnant or possibly pregnant before or after force was used.
A Met spokesperson said “the use of Taser is sometimes necessary to protect the individual, themselves or the wider public,” adding that officers are trained in understanding the risks of using the device on vulnerable people.
“In 92% of MPS cases the use of Taser only goes as far as a red dot challenge which brings the matter to a successful resolution without the need of any other force,” they said.
“It would be impossible to constrain the decision making of officers to only deploy a Taser as a last resort option, as it is impossible to create a policy for every set of circumstances with which they may be presented.”
The youngest self-described pregnant or possibly pregnant person, who was arrested by any force and subject to a restraint technique, was a 12-year-old girl arrested in 2020. The exact method was not disclosed.
The force also used an unspecified restraint method on a self-described pregnant or possibly pregnant 13-year-old girl in 2018 and a 14-year-old girl in 2019.
The Met spokesperson added: “On occasion there may be instances where an officer finds themselves in a position of having to use force on someone who is of a young age. Any such use is accountable by the officer in law.”
College of Policing guidance suggests that an awareness of a pregnancy should help inform an officer’s decision when choosing the most appropriate mode of restraint and transport for a female detainee.
However, after being shown the figures, charities are calling for this framework to be made much clearer around police use of force on pregnant women.
“We’re deeply concerned about reports of the use of spit hoods, Tasers and pepper spray being used on women who said they were pregnant,” Naomi Delap, Director of Birth Companions, a charity specialising in the experiences of pregnant women in the criminal justice system, said.
“Those methods must be a last resort across the board. There has to be a very strong justification for them to be used because of the risks involved.”
“The application of the current College of Policing guidance on limiting the use of force where a woman makes a declaration that she is pregnant should also be reviewed, with consideration given to whether this should make specific reference to the use of spit hoods and Tasers in these situations.”
Campaigners have also highlighted research by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Women in the Penal System which showed that thousands of women were being needlessly arrested and detained in custody each year before being released without charge.
“Most women in trouble should not be arrested at all,” Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said.
“An arrest can be a damaging and traumatic event, so it is vital that police act proportionately and sensitively when responding to incidents of concern.
“This is especially important in the case of children or if a woman being arrested could be pregnant, where the use of handcuffs or Taser is particularly dangerous.”