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Taser heart attack warning issued to Camden police by charity chief

PUBLISHED: 10:00 08 October 2013

Tasers were introduced in Camden in May this year. Picture: PA/ Lewis Whyld

Tasers were introduced in Camden in May this year. Picture: PA/ Lewis Whyld

PA Wire/Press Association Images

A charity chief has warned Camden’s police of the dangers of Tasering people with mental health problems – after it emerged they were targets in 75 per cent of incidents in the borough.

Majorie WallaceMajorie Wallace

Highgate resident Marjorie Wallace, founder and chief executive of SANE, said stun guns pose a major risk to people with mental illness and can potentially “justify their delusions” or even cause heart attacks in those taking anti-psychotics.

She was speaking after the Ham&High last week revealed that Tasers were fired four times in their first three months of use in Camden – and three of those incidents involved mental health issues.

Ms Wallace, a fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “The particular problem of Taser guns with mentally ill people, of which the police are obviously not to know, is that the very medication they are on, if they are psychotic, can make them more vulnerable to suffering from heart attacks.

“It interferes with the rhythm of their heart.

“In addition, if somebody is already very frightened and paranoid, and believes that they are being attacked, then to be physically attacked in such an extreme way, causing physical pain and shock, can exacerbate their illness. It justifies the delusions they may be having that the world is against them.”

Following a Freedom of Information request by the Ham&High, it was found last week that Tasers were used to stop a suicidal man burning himself in South Hampstead, on a man threatening to self-harm, and at a man with mental health problems who was brandishing knives in Gospel Oak.

There were two other cases of people self-harming or threatening to self-harm in which the weapons, which deliver 50,000 volts to the body, were drawn by police but not fired.

Ms Wallace did not criticise police over the specific incidents, saying they “do their best” in very difficult situations, but said there are alternatives in most cases.

She said: “I think Taser guns should never really be used on people with mental illness, unless it is the only and absolute last result to stop them harming others, and there is no other way of reaching them or talking them down.

“The police on the whole do their best with mentally ill people in our experience, but they cannot really know the state that the person is in.”

Camden Police were asked to comment but did not respond in time.


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