London: Police are using Taser stun guns on youngsters every day, disturbing figures have shown.
Officers wielded the 50,000 volt weapons against more than 400 under 18s in only one year — including some as young as 11 — a huge rise compared to seven years ago, when the potentially deadly devices were first cleared for use on that age group.
Senior police figures are campaigning for Tasers to be handed to every one of the country’s 127,000 front-line officers.
But David Blunkett, who as home secretary first authorised the weapons in the UK, said he is concerned that police are rushing to use Tasers rather than trying to defuse angry confrontations.
Speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live, he said: “I think it’s time for a review that incorporates the use of Tasers with advice and support on how to deal with difficult situations. For a youngster, 11 years old, a Taser is not in my view an appropriate way of dealing with a situation — which clearly must have been out of hand, but where we need to train people to use more traditional alternatives.’
Blunkett went on to urge chief constables to look at who is authorised to wield Tasers and examine “whether alternatives can be used”.
According to the latest Home Office figures, 431 under-18s had a Taser used against them in 2013, an increase of more than a third compared to the previous year. The figures show that they include an 11 year old, a 12 year old, four 13 year olds and 33 14 year olds.
One of the Taser shootings took place at a Devon school for children with learning difficulties in December 2013. Police shot three pupils, all aged 14 or 15, at Chelfham Senior School in Bere Alston after being called to a “violent incident”.
The most common age group to face being Tasered were 17 year olds, with 180 incidents recorded, followed by 16 year olds with 132 incidents. The statistics included situations, in which Tasers were fired, used to “light up” a target with a red sighting dot or merely removed from their holster.
Tasers were introduced in England and Wales in 2003 in a 12-month trial for firearms officers in five police forces. Four years later police were told they could use them on under-18s, leading to 27 recorded cases, in which they were employed. In 2008 Tasers were rolled out across the country, and were no longer limited to specialist officers.
Supporters say the weapons offer a vital tool for police to defuse dangerous confrontations without the use of live ammunition.
But critics are concerned that Tasers are being drawn in everyday situations to bully and intimidate members of the public.
There are also fears that the weapons are being used inappropriately, for example on those already in custody, the mentally ill, and the young and vulnerable.
Solicitor Sophie Khan, who represents people who have been Tasered by police, said: “Tasers should only be used on children if there is no other feasible way to restrain them.”
But Met Commander Neil Basu said: “If a 14 year old is committing a violent act or if they are self-harming, then our job is to make sure that stops in the safest way possible. And in certain circumstances Taser is that option.”