Photograph by Chris King

News from Siân Berry: Met uses ‘dehumanising’ spit hood on 80-year-old

11 September 2019

Met uses ‘dehumanising’ spit hood on 80-year-old

The Met police have this week confirmed they will roll out use of controversial spit hoods on London’s streets – despite concerns from Sian Berry AM and various human rights groups. [1]

Sian Berry criticised the initial three-month trial of the hoods that began in custody suites, when it appeared they had been used disproportionately against black Londoners. [2]

Sian has now obtained new data from the Mayor and found that between August 2017 and April this year – the most recently available data – spit hoods have been used in custody suites against 704 Londoners. [3]

The figures show spit hoods used on 36 young people (under the age of 18) and at least one 80-year-old in London.

The police have announced this week that they intend to use these hoods on the street, not just in custody suites. This follows ‘a review’ but no details of any public consultation have been given. 

Sian Berry said:

The use of spit hoods – essentially a bag over someone’s head – is an extremely dehumanising tactic and I am convinced that alternative protection should be provided to police officers at risk of infection in cases of extreme behaviour. 

I’ve asked for an update on how spit hoods are being used in custody suites – and crucially against which groups of Londoners – and its use against under 18s and older Londoners does nothing to reduce my concerns. 

In addition the disproportionate use of hoods on black Londoners continues. Only 13 per cent of Londoners are black but the proportion of those who have been subjected to spit hoods is 26 per cent in this latest data.


The Mayor originally halted a planned roll out of spit hoods in custody suits in 2016 and asked the Met to run more consultations to ensure any decision ‘should be informed by public engagement’. [4]

Notes to editors

Sian is available for interview.

[1] Excerpt from a letter to the Chair of the Police and Crime Committee, from the Metropolitan Police Service’s Director of Strategy and Governance

Provide a briefing on the evaluation of the pilot of the use of spit guards in custody suites

The Spit and Bite Guard (SBG) has become an established item of personal safety equipment throughout the UK. It is currently employed by forty-one of the forty-three Home Office police forces with the remaining two constabularies considering its introduction. All identified MPS front line personnel have been trained in SBG use within the mandatory Officer Safety Training programme. This training includes the safe application and removal of the garment, in addition to the medical implications of its use, and the individual officer's accountability to ensure that each use is proportionate and necessary in the circumstances.

Officers must demonstrate competency in these skill areas and learning outcomes before deploying the SBG. Each usage is recorded in the officer's evidential notes, custody record for those in custody as well as an electronic 'use of force' entry. These are supervised locally and SBG usage, as with all 'uses of force', are monitored by a MPS oversight committee chaired by DAC Matt Twist. The data relating to all uses of force is published monthly on a public facing website. Work continues to establish more external scrutiny within existing forums to monitor use of force.

Over time, this data will provide an increasingly sophisticated and accurate insight into the risks faced by officers, which will include incidents of spitting and biting.

The SBG used by the MPS has been subject to a detailed medical study in 2018 measuring oxygen saturation levels. This study showed oxygen saturation levels remained within safe levels during exertion whist wearing an SBG. SBGs were used on 816 occasions in the MPS in 2018 within custody suites. An SBG is only applied where the suspect has spat at, or bitten officers or through their behaviour it is clear they are about to.

Following a review, the MPS is preparing for a further roll-out of the SBG to the streets of London to further enhance the protection of officers and the communities they serve. To date, no public complaint regarding the use of SBGs has been received by the MPS, nor internal evidence of inappropriate use. For these reasons, the MPS' introduction of the SBG is considered to be an appropriate and necessary control measure to the risks associated with spitting and biting.

[2] Concern over Met police use of spit hoods on black detainees, The Guardian, Sept 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/sep/02/concern-over-met-police-...

[3] Sian Berry, Question to the Mayor 2018/3075, Spit hoods use in custody suites https://www.london.gov.uk/questions/2018/3075

[4] Met Police backtracks on 'spit hoods' plan as Sadiq Khan enters row over use at London police stations, Evening Standard, Sept 2016 https://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/met-police-to-consult-further-on-...

[5] Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Evidence Base for London
Greater London Authority (GLA), https://data.london.gov.uk/dataset/equality--diversity-and-inclusion-evi...

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