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Page last updated at 13:09 GMT, Tuesday, 21 July 2009 14:09 UK

Taser-hit man burst into flames

 A police officer points a Taser gun at the camera, file photo from June 2009
Taser guns discharge 50,000 volts

A man in Western Australia was engulfed in flames when police officers fired a Taser stun gun at him.

Police say they used the Taser on Ronald Mitchell, 36, when he ran at them carrying a container of petrol and a cigarette lighter.

They said that Mr Mitchell, who lives in a remote Aboriginal community, had been sniffing petrol. They suggested the cigarette lighter started the fire.

Mr Mitchell is in a critical condition in hospital with third degree burns.

Bare hands

Western Australia Police say they went to the community of Warburton, about 1,500 km (950 miles) north-east of Perth, in response to a complaint.

They say they used the Taser on Mr Mitchell when he came out of the house and ran at them.

He burst into flames. One officer pushed him to the ground and smothered the fire with his bare hands, police said.

Map

Mr Mitchell's sister told The Australian newspaper that her brother had been sniffing petrol.

"He must have put petrol on his face, then the policeman shot him with the Taser, that's when the flames happened," she said.

Police Commissioner Karl O'Callaghan said Mr Mitchell was a known violent offender, and defended the police officers' deployment of the Taser.

He told reporters: "The only other choice they would have had is to use a police-issue firearm, and the consequences would almost certainly have been far more grave."

He said the police internal affairs department would investigate the incident, saying there was "a very strong possibility that the fire was caused by the lighter in the hand of the offender".

Review call

Mr Mitchell was charged with assault to prevent arrest and possession of a sniffing substance.

Dennis Eggington, of the Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia, called for an urgent review of Taser use.

Aboriginal people, he said, were often in poor health, which made them particularly vulnerable to stun weapons.

A Taser works by firing two barbs which penetrate the skin and discharge 50,000 volts along two copper wires attached to the gun.

Amnesty International has called them "potentially lethal".



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Country profile: Australia
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