A POLICE watchdog has issued an appeal for witnesses after a controversial arrest in Accrington.

An inquiry has been launched by the Independent Office for Police Conduct after a 34-year-old suspected car thief was detained in Lonsdale Street on January 8.

Footage of the arrest was shared widely on social media, which appeared to show one officer landing on the suspect with his knees and another aiming blows at the prone man while on the ground.

Later police bosses confirmed the incident, sparked by the alleged theft of a Nissan Juke car in the Blackburn area, had been referred to the IOPC and their own professional standards department.

Last night the IOPC issued a request for witnesses to come forward who may have seen the circumstances surrounding the detention, which occurred after a stinger device had been used to bring the Nissan to a halt.

A spokesman for the watchdog said: "Footage of the arrest, which was shared on social media, showed the man being restrained by a number of police officers.

"We decided to independently investigate the actions of the officers involved after we received a voluntary referral from the force.

"We would like to speak to anyone who witnessed the incident which took place at around 2pm on Lonsdale Street. Witnesses can call 0800 029 4687, or e-mail lonsdalest@policeconduct.gov.uk."

Amanda Rowe, the IOPC's regional director, added: "We understand why the images that were circulated caused considerable public concern.

"After the footage was shared on social media, a voluntary referral was made to us in relation to the conduct of two of the arresting officers.

"It is vitally important that the circumstances of the man's arrest are subject to an independent investigation so we can fully understand what happened and impartially determine the facts.

"We have already begun to gather evidence, but would like to speak to anyone who may have witnessed the incident."

* Police later confirmed that a man had been charged with aggravated vehicle taking and dangerous driving in relation to the incident.