ITV News Health Reporter Ellie Pitt breaks down the latest figures to hit Britain's most high-profile police force with controversy
By ITV News Multimedia Producer Yohannes LoweFigures obtained by ITV News reveal the Metropolitan Police, Britain's biggest police force, have used force thousands of times on women who said they were pregnant or possibly pregnant following arrest.
Between January 2018 and June 2021, there were 2,556 occasions when incapacitant spray or force was recorded on risk assessments as being used by Met officers on such women and girls.
In total, the Met made 4,117 arrests of self-described pregnant or possibly pregnant women over this period, meaning more than half of these interactions involved some use of force.
On three occasions this use of force included the use of a Taser.
The definition of force ranges from compliant handcuffing and the drawing of a baton, to the use of dogs, irritant spray, body restraints, spit hoods and use of a Taser.
The disclosures come as the Met finds itself under intense scrutiny for what critics have described as a culture of institutional misogyny within the force.
West Yorkshire Police, Britain's fourth largest force, also provided data based on the number of arrests, as opposed to individuals.
The constabulary recorded 757 arrests where a detainee stated she was pregnant on a risk assessment form, using force or restraint on around 470 occasions before and in custody.
Data from 15 other police forces showed at least 3,818 girls and women who told officers they were pregnant or possibly pregnant were arrested between January 2018 and June 2021.
There were 275 occasions when force or restraint was used, responses to a series of Freedom of Information (FoI) requests show.
The data was largely based on detainees declaring their pregnancy status- which could not be medically verified- on risk assessment forms in custody.
Several forces were unable to confirm if officers were aware of the women's pregnancy status at the time force was used.
Charities have reacted with alarm to the figures, as they expose a huge regional variation in the level of force used across the country, including on teenagers.
Here are some of the specific incidents of force recorded:
The Metropolitan Police
Custody records show between January 2018 and June 2021, spit hoods were used 302 times on women who said they were pregnant or possibly pregnant.
Spit hoods are full face coverings made of mesh and plastic that are used to prevent a suspect from spitting, biting or coughing at arresting officers, protecting them from exposure to serious infection.
But the controversial devices, which Met commissioner Cressida Dick previously said should only be used in custody suites and not during arrest, can make it difficult to notice breathing difficulties.
A Taser was fired at a self-described pregnant or possibly pregnant woman before they arrived in custody on three separate occasions.
The Met could not confirm within the time limits of the FoI act whether or not the women subjected to incapacitant spray or a spit hood told officers they were pregnant or possibly pregnant before or after force was used.
A Met spokesperson said: "The use of Taser is sometimes necessary to protect the individual, themselves or the wider public," adding that officers are trained in understanding the risks of using the device on vulnerable people and that any use is subject to scrutiny.
"In 92% of MPS cases the use of Taser only goes as far as a red dot challenge which brings the matter to a successful resolution without the need of any other force.
"It would be impossible to constrain the decision making of officers to only deploy a Taser as a last resort option, as it is impossible to create a policy for every set of circumstances with which they may be presented."
The youngest self-described pregnant or possibly pregnant person who was arrested by any force and subject to a restraint technique was a 12-year-old girl arrested by the MET in 2020.
The exact method was not disclosed under personal information grounds.
The force also used an unspecified restraint method on a self-described pregnant or possibly pregnant 13-year-old girl in 2018 and a 14-year-old girl in 2019.
A Met spokesperson added: "On occasion there may be instances where an officer finds themselves in a position of having to use force on someone who is of a young age. Any such use is accountable by the officer in law."
Between January 2018 and June 2021, "hard physical control" techniques- which include taking a person to the ground and striking- were used 70 times, with incapacitant spray used on six occasions overall.
Spit hoods were used twice; one of these detainees said she was five weeks pregnant, while the other had been recorded as being "potentially" three months pregnant.
The force, which does not record whether pregnancy status was known at the point of arrest, said both women had assaulted officers by spitting at them and had been marked as "contagious" on their records.
In a statement, West Yorkshire Police said force is only used as a last resort and the health of any arrested person is considered before it is applied.
"Officers are accountable for ensuring the use of force is lawful and proportionate to ensure the public and themselves are protected from harm," it read.
"All women brought into custody are also allocated with a specific female police officer or detention officer who can assist with issues or provide additional support."
Kent Police officers used two-inch wide velcro strip "restraint belts" in five separate arrests between January 2018 and June 2021.
One of the women was seven months pregnant when a restraint belt was applied.
The force says the belts were all put on the ankle and below the knee, and were used to prevent the detainee from assaulting an officer or from harming themselves.
On a separate occasion, incapacitant spray was used against a 33-year-old driver of a vehicle who later said she was pregnant.
"After coming to a stop at a dead end, the driver is reported to have refused to exit the vehicle which had allegedly previously failed to stop, before assaulting an attending officer," Assistant Chief Constable Nicola Faulconbridge, from Kent Police, said.
"It was determined that using an incapacitant spray was the safest way to bring her under control, as a physical struggle provided a greater risk of an injury being sustained."
All frontline officers receive extensive training on the use of force and follow national standards which state that verbal reasoning should be used to try and de-escalate a situation first, she added.
The six incidents led to 22 charges being authorised and four community resolutions being agreed.
Kent Police said that, on all occasions, force was used during the arrest phase - before the detainee self-described themselves as being pregnant.
'We are deeply concerned': Charities express alarm at the disclosures
College of Policing guidance states that an awareness of a pregnancy should help inform an officer's decision when choosing the most appropriate mode of restraint and transport for a female detainee.
However, after being shown our figures, charities are calling for this framework to be made much clearer around police use of force on pregnant women.
"We are deeply concerned about reports of the use of spit hoods, Tasers and pepper spray being used on women who said they were pregnant," Naomi Delap, Director of Birth Companions, a charity specialising in the experiences of pregnant women in the criminal justice system, said.
"Those methods must be a last resort across the board. There has to be a very strong justification for them to be used because of the risks involved."
"The application of the current College of Policing guidance on limiting the use of force where a woman makes a declaration that she is pregnant should also be reviewed, with consideration given to whether this should make specific reference to the use of spit hoods and Tasers in these situations."
Campaigners have also highlighted research by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Women in the Penal System which showed that thousands of women were being needlessly arrested and detained in custody each year before being released without charge.
"Most women in trouble should not be arrested at all," Andrew Neilson, Director of Campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said.
"An arrest can be a damaging and traumatic event, so it is vital that police act proportionately and sensitively when responding to incidents of concern.
"This is especially important in the case of children or if a woman being arrested could be pregnant, where the use of handcuffs or Taser is particularly dangerous."
If you’ve had force used against you by the police when you were pregnant and feel comfortable enough to share your experience, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.