SUSSEX police are finally to apologise to the mother of a disabled 11 year-old girl four years after her daughter was restrained in a spit hood but are refusing to rule out using the controversial technique on children again.

Nearly 700 people have signed a petition calling on the force to stop using the mesh hoods on children, following criticism of the treatment of the girl who was also handcuffed and put in leg restraints back in 2012.

Her mother, who launched the petition, said the hoods could cause psychological and physical harm to children and noted other forces did not allow them.

New deputy chief constable Bernie O’Reilly again this week defended its use on the girl, adding only that he would refer the family’s concerns on spit hoods to the College of Policing, which sets national standards.

Matt Webb, chairman of the local branch of the Police Federation, representing rank and file officers, also defended their use to protect his members from illness.

He said: “It is absolutely unacceptable to have the view that an officer should allow themselves to be spat at by a member of the public no matter what their age and mental capacity.

“It is a vile and disgusting form of assault and any force that fails to provide spit hoods to officers is, in our view, neglecting their duty of care to officers.

“I don’t see it makes any difference whether it is a child spitting at me or an adult, the potential is still exactly the same in regard to the risk to an officer or an individual.”

The police watchdog criticised Sussex Police’s treatment of the 11-year-old, who had behavioural problems arising from a developmental disorder and spent 60 hours in custody in 2012.

They said she should have had an appropriate adult and officers should have recorded why they restrained her as they did.

Investigators found the use of the spit hood was in line with force policy - policy the mother now wants to change.

A meeting is now being set up to apologise in person to the mother for the distress caused and lack of appropriate adult.

Her lawyer Gus Silverman, from Irwin Mitchell, said yesterday she welcomed the anticipated apology but remained “very concerned” about the use of spit hoods.