In pictures, the officer can be seen discharging the halon device – banned for civilian use because of its environmental impact – above the head of a demonstrator during Wednesday’s march against increased tuition fees.
The protester shuts his eyes as someone behind him shields their face with their hands.
One witness was quoted on Indymedia as saying: ‘I saw the shocking sight of a police medic putting his arm through the officers in front of him and spraying a BCF halon fire extinguisher at the faces of some of the protesters caught at the front of the crowd.’
Halon extinguishers contain toxic elements such as bromine and fluorine, and have been linked to breathing difficulties, skin and eye irritation, dizziness and even unconsciousness.
Metropolitan Police denied using the extinguishers for crowd control and said halon devices were chiefly deployed to put out fires on people.
Footage from the demonstration in Whitehall showed a bus shelter and piles of placards on fire but, in photographs of the police medic, flames cannot be seen. The Met said some student demonstrators had been igniting aerosol sprays and that paramedics had treated burns victims.
A spokesman added: ‘Given this information, it is correct operational procedure that officers would have the fire extinguisher in their hands ready for immediate use if presented with this situation.
‘The pin is always removed so its use is instantaneous.
‘By design, these fire extinguishers are extremely sensitive and can easily be discharged by sudden movement or pressure.’
Police forces are exempt from the ban on halon devices, as ruled by the Home Office.
Source: The Metro
Minor, ex-chem student nitpick: Halon contains bromine and fluorine in the same way salt contains flammable and caustic sodium metal. Still certainly not something one should spray in people's faces, but not deadly in the way those chemicals would be. Nice to see the medics are just as bad as the other pigs though, eh?