A police officer in London has been convicted of assault by pepper spraying a man who was climbing down the drainpipe of a 15-floor building. The officer was found guilty on two counts of common assault on Wednesday in Westminster’s magistrate’s court.
PC Luke Wenham, 31, barged into a 12th floor South London flat of a suspected robber in August 2022. The alleged suspect then climbed out of the window and down a drainpipe to escape the police. At this time, PC Wenham sprayed the suspect with a Pava incapacitant spray (a synthetic pepper spray) while he was balancing on the drainpipe. The suspect was sprayed twice, the second occurring when he managed to make it to the balcony of a flat on the seventh floor.
Steve Noonan, Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) director, said that Wenham’s decisions could have caused the man to sustain a deadly fall. After an investigation conducted by the IOPC, Noonan said that ‘at the time he was sprayed, the man was not posing an immediate risk to the officers or anyone else.’ He also stated that according to national guidance, pepper spray can cause reflexive reactions such as weakening legs, temporary blindness, and causing someone to move their hands to their face. These could have caused the man to lose his balance or grip which would have led to a fatal outcome. ‘It is clear that in spraying the man twice at considerable heights, PC Wenham exposed him to the genuine risk,’ Noonan stated.
Local Southwark policing commander DCS Seb Adjei-Addoh spoke about how officers should use proper discretion on when to use any type of force on a suspect. He also added that if force is used improperly the officer should be held accountable. ‘Officers know that their actions will be held to account and where any use of force is deployed, must always consider whether it was necessary and proportionate to the circumstances.’
There has been disapproval within the policing community over Wenham’s actions with Adjei-Addoh stating: ‘It is clear in this case that not only was PC Wenham’s response completely disproportionate to the situation he faced but also, by doing what he did, he put a member of public at risk of harm.’ He said that PC Wenham’s actions have not only caused harm to himself and the suspect, but also has reflected badly on the entire policing community. Wenham will be sentenced on the 26th of July.