Taser use revealed: Police fire stun-gun to stop man burning himself alive in South Hampstead

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 - Credit: PA Wire/Press Association Images

Taser guns helped to stop a suicidal man from burning himself alive – during one of the four times they have been fired since being rolled out in Camden.

Sgt Alun Jones with a taser at Camden Town Hall. Picture: Polly Hancock

Sgt Alun Jones with a taser at Camden Town Hall. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

Officers used the controversial stun-guns – which unleash 50,000 volts into the body – on a man who doused himself with petrol and was threatening to light a match in South Hampstead in June, details obtained by the Ham&High have revealed.

Police also fired at a man who was brandishing three knives in the street in Gospel Oak in July – who was then sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

And on two other occasions officers used a Taser gun on someone threatening to self-harm in May and to break up a pub brawl where broken bottles were being used as weapons in August.

The details were released by Scotland Yard under a Freedom of Information (FoI) request this week.

The controversial weapons were given to 40 of Camden’s response team officers, who react to 999 calls, in May, despite fierce criticism from Camden Council.

They were fired four times in the first three months after they were introduced on May 6.

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By comparison, Taser guns were discharged just once in their first six months of use in neighbouring Islington, where they were rolled out in January.

This fact, coupled with the news that three out of the four incidents involved people with mental health issues, has only served to increase the council’s apprehension.

Cllr Adbul Hai, Camden cabinet member for community safety, said: “There are concerns about people with mental health issues. We need to work with police to ensure they are discharged in a way that doesn’t have any negative impact.”

He added: “If people are carrying knives or any form of weapons, police have to use whatever necessary reasonable force is within their means.

“But my concern is that there have to be proper safeguards and the use of Tasers has to be kept to a minimum.”

Cllr Hai has previously voiced fears that the introduction of the stun guns could trigger an “arms race”. He reiterated this worry, saying: “The very minute the police start arming themselves, the criminals will arm themselves and it becomes a bit of a race.”

Noting that the rollout coincided with the closure of Hampstead police station and a policing shake-up that leaves fewer officers dedicated to single wards, Cllr Hai added: “There are other ways of ensuring public safety – a visible police presence is what makes people safe.

“Deterring crime is about having visible police officers up and down our town centres, communities, housing estates and streets.”

The FoI reveals that the electroshock guns were used a further 22 times in Camden without being discharged in the three months since they were introduced.

These incidents, in which officers drew their weapons and sometimes trained a red dot on suspects, involved pub fights, drug-dealers armed with knives, attempted sexual assault and another man threatening to self-harm with scissors after he was caught pleasuring himself in a churchyard.

In another case, a Taser was drawn on a dog that police feared might be used as a weapon, prompting the owner to bring the animal under control.

Ch Insp Dionne Mitchell, who supervises Taser use in Camden, thinks they are a “great” tool.

She said the levels of use in the first three months are in line with expectations and show that officers are acting responsibly.

She added that there have been no complaints from the public to her knowledge.

“Any additional safety equipment that we have that doesn’t mean incidents escalate any further has got to be an asset to our teams and officers on the street,” she said.

“I think it’s a great tool for situations where there’s a threat that can’t be controlled by other means.”

She added: “I think mental health issues are a bigger concern than just the police and I would not advocate routinely deploying Tasers in these cases.”