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Doctors urge rubber bullet ban
Spanish police
Many police forces across the world use rubber bullets
Rubber bullets are unsafe and should never be used by authorities to control riots, doctors have warned.

Researchers in Israel said the ammunition, which is supposed to be safer than live rounds and inflict only superficial damage, causes "significant" injury and death and should be banned.

While rubber bullets have not been fired in the UK since the 1970s, they are used extensively by police forces across the world.


We don't use rubber bullets

Association of Chief Police Officers spokesman
Spanish police fired rubber bullets at protesters during this year's EU summit in Barcelona and rounds have also been used recently against rioters in Los Angeles and Buenos Aires.

Rubber bullets were first used by British forces in Northern Ireland in 1970 but were replaced with plastic bullets later that decade.

The use of plastic bullets remains controversial although authorities insist they are safer and more accurate than rubber or live ammunition.

Random injuries

Professor Michael Krausz and colleagues at the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, analysed the medical records of 595 casualties admitted to hospital during Israeli-Arab riots in October 2000.

Of those, 152 were found to have been injured by rubber bullets. Injuries were distributed randomly across their bodies but were most common on the patients' arms and legs, and on their head, neck and face.

The doctors said their findings dismissed the theory that rubber bullets were safe.

Writing in The Lancet, they said firing the bullets on civilians made it "impossible to avoid severe injuries to vulnerable body regions such as the head, neck and upper torso, leading to substantial mortality, morbidity and disability."

They added: "We reported a substantial number of severe injuries and fatalities inflicted by use of rubber bullets when vulnerable upper-body regions such as the head, neck and upper torso were struck.

"This type of ammunition should therefore not be considered a safe method of crowd control."

The study also highlighted previous research which suggested that even plastic bullets may not be safe and may cause more severe head injuries.

Plastic bullet fears

The authors called for new types of bullets to be developed.

They said: "New types of ammunition with higher accuracy and less force of impact than those currently in use are urgency needed."

Police forces across the UK can now use plastic bullets as a result of rule changes last year. However, they have only been used twice on the UK mainland, in north Wales and Surrey earlier this year.

A spokesman for the Home Office said senior police officers were responsible for deciding whether or not plastic baton rounds should be used.

He said: "It is up to individual chief constables to decide if and when they should be used."

A spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers added: "We don't use rubber bullets. Plastic baton rounds have been made available since 1 June 2000 nationally.

"But is down to forces really to decide if they should be used. They are available to forces if they so wish."

A spokesman for the Police Service of Northern Ireland said provisional figures showed that 110 baton rounds had been used there in the first five months of this year.

See also:

16 Mar 02 | Europe
04 Sep 01 | Entertainment
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