updated 6/9/2009 7:50:31 PM ET 2009-06-09T23:50:31

A group of Scotland Yard officers were suspended after "serious allegations" about their behavior during the arrests of five suspects last year, police said Tuesday.

London's police force did not go into detail, but Sky News television, the Daily Mail and The Times of London newspapers reported that six officers were accused of "waterboarding" drug suspects.

The papers gave varying accounts of the exact technique used by police, with the Times saying that officers poured water on a cloth and placed it over a suspect's face to simulate the experience of drowning.

However the Times, in a related article posted to the Internet, cited an unidentified source as saying police may have shoved suspects' heads into bowls of water rather than use the waterboarding technique more familiar from its use by U.S. interrogators to squeeze information out of suspected terrorists.

The reason for the discrepancy was not immediately clear. The Daily Mail said the police officers were accused of repeatedly dunking the suspects' heads in buckets of water.

Neither paper said where exactly the alleged waterboarding took place

Scotland Yard said the allegations center on the arrests of five people in the north London in November. But in an e-mail statement, the force said that it was "not appropriate to make assumptions" about what the officers did.

While a spokesman for the force refused to comment on the nature of the allegations, his statement acknowledged that they were grave and "do raise real concern."

"Any allegations of such behaviour are treated very seriously ... and if found true the strongest possible action will be taken," the statement said.

The spokesman said that he could not comment on the specifics of the claims because Britain's police watchdog, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, was currently investigating the matter. He spoke anonymously, in line with force policy.

Calls and e-mails to the Independent Police Complaints Commission late Tuesday were not immediately returned.

Waterboarding is almost universally condemned in Britain as torture. It has caused controversy after been used by U.S. interrogators to squeeze information out of suspected terrorists.

More on: waterboarding

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