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Thursday, 2 August, 2001, 01:31 GMT 02:31 UK
Police consider stun guns
Home Secretary David Blunkett
David Blunkett: Concerns over use of lethal force
Police in London may be issued with electric stun guns to defend themselves from violent criminals, Scotland Yard has said.

The "taser" gun, which uses an electrical shock to cause temporarily paralysis, could be introduced by the end of the year.

The move is designed to give Metropolitan Police officers more non-lethal options when tackling violent offenders, said a Scotland Yard spokeswoman.

It comes just two weeks after 29-year-old Derek Bennett was shot dead by armed police in south London - an incident which sparked calls for a review of police firearms use.

It does look as though it is a sudden knee-jerk reaction to the latest two shootings

John O'Connor
Former Flying Squad commander
Officers fired six shots at Mr Bennett believing he was brandishing a weapon which, it later emerged, was a gun-shaped cigarette lighter.

The spokeswoman said: "The Metropolitan Police would like to see the use of less lethal weapons such as the air taser, an electrical device, and is looking at the possibility at the moment."

All armed response units and territorial support groups will be issued with the weapons by the end of the year if the plans are approved, she said.

Forces watching

The Met's progress with "non-lethal weapons" will be closely followed by other forces across the country.

Northamptonshire Constabulary, which is also interested in the stun gun technology, already has four of the weapons which are used solely for research purposes.

Durham was one of the first forces to introduce rubber bullets for use alongside conventional firearms, although they have yet to be used.

The Metropolitan Police would like to see the use of less lethal weapons

Scotland Yard
The force says it will make a decision on using electrical weaponry once research and testing on various options has been carried out.

Northumbria police says it has made no decision on the matter although it has been liaising with the Police Scientific Development Branch for the past year.

It adds that it is awaiting their evaluation and report on non-lethal options for firearms officers.

Rendered harmless

Tasers work by firing a two-pronged dart, connected to the gun by an electrical wire, into the victim.

Propelled by an air cartridge, the dart can penetrate most clothing at a range of 30ft.

An electrical charge over-rides the central nervous system, causing uncontrollable muscle contractions.

These almost always render the victim harmless as most people curl up into the foetal position immediately.

The risks to health are thought to be small.

'Operational possibilities'

Home Secretary David Blunkett is reportedly concerned about the use of police marksmen where the offender does not appear to pose a direct public threat, and wants to give officers non-lethal alternatives.

The Observer newspaper reported earlier this month that Mr Blunkett wanted to bring forward plans to issue dart guns to officers, to give them a "third way" between using guns and batons.

According to the Home Office, the decision on whether to introduce stun guns would rest with individual chief constables, rather than the home secretary.

The Northern Ireland Office and ACPO have asked the Home Office to research the "operational possibilities" of non-lethal technology.

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes said, while he welcomed new technology to protect officers and the public, the trial of the taser guns should be carefully controlled and monitored.

"The police cannot afford to add to their recent reputation for the fatal shootings of individuals and every reasonable alternative must be explored".

"But any new methods of law-enforcement must first be proved to be non-lethal and not to cause any permanent damage to offenders."

Knee-jerk reaction

Former Flying Squad commander John O'Connor said the taser was unreliable and unpractical.

"It does look as though it is a sudden knee-jerk reaction to the latest two shootings.

"Had the police known that Derek Bennett was carrying a cigarette lighter and not a gun they wouldn't have shot him in the first place

"Believing that he had a firearm, had he also taken a hostage, using a taser gun would have been useless.

"You then run the risk of losing the hostage."

The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"The victim is completely disabled"
Brendan Paddy, Amnesty International
"We may see these things used inappropriately"
The BBC's Tom Carver is in Maryland, USA
where stun guns are already in use
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