Statewatch article: RefNo# 2707
UK: ACPO relaxes guidelines on plastic bullets
Statewatch bulletin vol 9 no 5 (September-October 1999)
Guidelines for the deployment of plastic bullets to police forces in England and Wales have been relaxed in new rules drawn up by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) at the beginning of August. A ban on the use of the lethal ammunition was recommended by the European parliament in 1982 and 1997 because it was considered to represent "excessive force" and breached the United Nations code of conduct for law enforcers. Seventeen people, many of them children, have been killed by the baton rounds in Northern Ireland and thousands of people have suffered injuries. A separate review governing their use in Scotland has yet to be published.

The ACPO review, which replaces previous Home Office and Northern Ireland rules, allows police officers to use baton rounds in public order situations to protect themselves or other members of the emergency services and the general public. Point 7 stipulates that baton rounds can be used:

(i) where other methods of policing to restore or sustain public order have been tried and failed, or must from the nature of the circumstances be unlikely to succeed if tried


(ii) where their use is judged to be necessary to reduce a serious risk of:

(a) loss of life or serious injury, or

(b) substantial and serious damage to property where there is or is judged to be a sufficiently serious risk of loss of life or serious injury to justify their use.

Previously in England and Wales the firing of baton rounds was restricted to situations when there was a risk of injury or loss of life to the general public.

Noting that "Baton rounds have...never been used in England and Wales", Home Secretary Jack Straw claimed that the lethal weapons would only be used in "serious public order situations". However, this is vaguely defined and Straw also notes that baton rounds provide "an effective tool for the police service in controlling public disorder." It is not difficult to envisage their use at demonstrations, such as the recent J18 day of action in the City of London, where provocative policing led to a "serious public disorder situation".

The new guidelines make the use of plastic bullets in public order situations in England and Wales inevitable despite the evidence from Northern Ireland. In the recently published Patten report (A new beginning: policing in Northern Ireland) the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) was criticised for failing to keep adequate records on their use. The report also expressed "surprise" and "concern" that the RUC, Police Authority and government has failed to research an alternative. Eyewitness accounts demonstrate that the rules for their use are frequently ignored leading to vast sums being paid out in compensation by the RUC. Medical studies have also pointed out the dangers of these lethal weapons. Significantly, not a single RUC policeman has been brought to account for the deaths and thousands of injuries caused by these lethal weapons.

ACPO "Guidelines on the use of baton rounds and firearms in situations of serious public disorder" 1.8.99.

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