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Last Updated: Friday, 29 December 2006, 10:48 GMT
'Dirty bomb' police numbers rise
Personal protection suits currently worn
The Home Office said current suits would be replaced
The government is increasing the number of police officers trained to deal with chemical, biological or radiation "dirty bombs", the BBC has learned.

Manufacturers are bidding to supply 12,000 personal protection suits to the Home Office, to be worn by UK police.

Only 7,000 officers - about 5% of the total - are so far trained to deal with such attacks, but the Home Office could not say how many more will be trained.

A spokeswoman said the move was not in response to any specific threat.

She said: "The police are already equipped to deal with a chemical, radiological, biological or nuclear incident.

A crudely-made device that combines a simple explosive with radioactive material
Sometimes called the "poor man's nuclear weapon" but has different impact
Would wreak panic in built-up areas, see large areas sealed off and result in long-term illnesses like cancer

"Public safety is our top priority and that's why we are committed to ensuring that as technology advances, we will provide the most up-to-date equipment to the police.

"This latest procurement is part of an ongoing process and not in response to any new or specific threat."

The Home Office said the move would mean an increase in the number of officers trained to deal with an attack, but would not say exactly how many.

Home Office Minister Tony McNulty said the figure of 12,000 came from a "guess" at what kind of threat officers could face and an assessment of the cover required nationally and for each police force.


The contract is being advertised on the Official Journal of the European Union website and the deadline for bids was before Christmas.

Army bomb disposal expert is hosed down
Attacks are simulated as part of training

The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) said the purchase of the suits was "part of a sensible, planned investment programme".

And Jan Berry, chairman of the Police Federation, which represents rank and file officers in England and Wales, said she welcomed the supply of new equipment but stressed the importance of ongoing training so police can effectively protect the public.

Conservative homeland security spokesman Patrick Mercer said he was "delighted" by the move.

"It seems strange that they are doing it in December 2006 rather than October 2001," he added.

"It shows very slow appreciation by the government of what the dangers are."

In response to Mr Mercer's comments, Mr McNulty said: "When I've got the marshalled forces of experts and the police on one hand telling me what we need in terms of preparedness, I need to listen to them.

"And I thought it was a rather unnecessary, cheap shot for what's a very, very serious issue."

How Britain is preparing for a 'dirty bomb'

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