Two police forces to issue spit hoods to all front line staff

A spit hood Image copyright Hampshire Constabulary
Image caption A third of the UK's police forces use spit hoods

Two police forces have announced all front-line officers will be issued with hoods to prevent arrested people spitting or biting.

Thames Valley Police plans to introduce spit hoods for the first time, while Hampshire Constabulary currently only uses them in custody suites.

The two forces said the joint decision followed 432 reports of officers being spat at since April 2016.

Campaign group Liberty has described the hoods as "cruel and degrading".

A BBC Freedom of Information (FoI) request revealed last year they were being used by 17 of the UK's 49 police forces, with four more considering their introduction.

David Hardcastle, Assistant Chief Constable Operations for both forces, said the hoods protected staff and the public from "unacceptable and potentially dangerous behaviour".

He said: "Our officers put themselves at risk every day to protect the public and we want to ensure that they have the appropriate equipment to deal with the challenges they face.

"Everyone should be able to go to work without the possibility of being assaulted, including being spat at."

What are spit hoods?

Mesh fabric hoods placed over the heads of suspects to prevent spitting or biting.

They can only be used once and are usually used in custody suites or when moving people in custody from one location to another.

Critics say they are distressing and humiliating, can cause panic in the detained person, and make it harder to notice if a prisoner is having difficulty breathing.

A BBC FoI request showed since 2011 the hoods had been used at least 2,486 times - in 635 cases on people with suspected mental health issues.

They have also been used on 91 people aged under 18 in the past five years, with North Wales Police reporting the use of a spit hood on a 12-year-old girl.

In a joint statement, Hampshire Constabulary and Thames Valley Police said the hoods would be introduced once full training had been completed.

Chairman of the Independent Custody Visitors Association Martyn Underhill said he was concerned the forces had rushed the decision.

"I don't think we've done enough research to find out what else is out there," he said.

"Other countries and other places in this county don't use spit guards, so why have the police stared using them? I find it concerning we're rushing into something we don't fully understand."

Sara Ogilvie, policy officer at Liberty, previously told the BBC the hoods were "cruel, degrading and primitive" and should never be used on children.

The Metropolitan Police began a three-month spit guard pilot in five custody suites in north-east London in December.

The force said it would consult the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime in assessing the trial's effectiveness.

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