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Sunday, 15 July, 2001, 00:24 GMT 01:24 UK
Police 'to get tranquilliser guns'
Home Secretary David Blunkett
David Blunkett 'wants alternatives to bullets'
Tranquilliser guns will be issued to police in a bid to cut fatal shootings by armed officers, it has been reported.

Home Secretary David Blunkett is to bring forward plans to issue dart guns to officers to give them a "third way" between using guns and batons, according to The Observer.

The move follows the death of schizophrenic Andrew Kernan, who was shot dead by police marksmen in Liverpool last Thursday as he waved a samurai sword.

James Ashley
James Ashley: Shot at close range
The incident is reported to have "horrified" Mr Blunkett, who is increasingly concerned about the use of police marksmen where the person to be subdued does not appear to be a direct threat to the public, said the newspaper.

Although Mr Blunkett insists police will still be able to use fully armed response teams where necessary, he is said to want to give them alternatives.

In June the government gave the police the go-ahead to use 'non-lethal' weaponry.

So far Northamptonshire is the only force to have taken advantage of the move. It currently has four 50,000 volt stun guns, which it is using soley for research purposes. These guns can cause temporary paralysis.

Controversy

The Home Office is currently carrying out a study examining alternatives to firearms. No date has been set for the publication of its recommendations.

"This is a study that has been under way for some time and is continuing," a Home Office spokesman said.

"We are not ready to put forward any proposals yet. When we are they will be subject to widespread speculation."

The government's Less Lethal Technology group is also liaising with police on finding ways to stop situations like that involving Mr Kernan spiralling out of control.

Protection

The home secretary caused controversy last month when he publicly ordered Sussex Police to consider sacking its chief constable Paul Whitehouse after a bungled raid in which an unarmed man was shot dead.

Mr Whitehouse resigned a day after Mr Blunkett gave the order.

James Ashley, 39, was shot dead at point-blank range in front of his girlfriend by a police marksman at his flat in St Leonards, East Sussex, in January 1998.

The family is pursuing a civil case against Sussex Police.


They wanted to protect their integrity

Glen Smyth
London Police Federation
Concerns about the shootings are also reportedly being raised within the Metropolitan police force.

The Mail on Sunday says six of Scotland Yard's top police marksmen are refusing to carry guns because of a dispute over the way the law and their bosses are failing to protect them.

The men downed weapons when four colleagues were taken off duty and threatened with charges by the Crown Prosecution Service after a shoot-out with two armed robbers, according to the newspaper.

It says the men's 40 colleagues, all part of the elite SO19 Specialist Firearms Branch, are now threatening to join them.

London Police Federation chairman Inspector Glen Smyth said: "Some of them asked to be taken off because they were unhappy with the way colleagues were being dealt with.

"They wanted to protect their integrity."

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