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Saturday, 7 April, 2001, 11:08 GMT 12:08 UK
Criticism over new baton rounds
Plastic bullet use is controversial in Northern Ireland
Plastic bullet use is controversial in Northern Ireland
Relatives of those killed by baton rounds have rejected a claim by the Northern Ireland secretary of state that new plastic bullets are safer that the existing ones.

On Monday, John Reid said a report by independent experts had concluded that the new rounds were "on balance a great deal safer than the existing one".

Police officers and the army are to be issued with the new baton rounds in Northern Ireland and Britain in June.

However, members of the United Campaign Against Plastic Bullets who have seen the study said it found there was a greater chance of a round which strikes the head being lodged in the skull.

Jim McCabe, whose wife Nora died after being hit by a plastic bullet in 1981, said the report concludes the new rounds were more dangerous than the existing design.

John Reid:
John Reid: On balance new ones a great deal safer
Mr McCabe said: "I challenge John Reid to demonstrate where in this report it states our community will be a safer place as a result of the introduction of the new plastic bullet."

"On seeing this scientific report I can only conclude that this new bullet is more deadly."

The study by the Defence Scientific Advisory Council was completed last August but only made available to MPs earlier this week.

It found the new round would be lighter, faster and made from more robust material.

After its publication Mr Reid pledged to press ahead with efforts to find an alternative form of public order control for police to use.

He said: "We will continue the search for a safer alternative, but meanwhile we have introduced a round that independent experts have concluded is, on balance, a great deal safer than the existing one."

We will continue the search for a safer alternative

John Reid
Secretary of State
On Monday, Home Secretary Jack Straw told the House of Commons the new plastic bullets would be used by officers dealing with "threat to life" situations during violent disorders.

He said the baton rounds would be available for use by the police from June, in situations where they would otherwise be forced to use firearms.

On Monday, Mr Reid said the government was carrying forward the recommendations of the Patten Report on policing change in Northern Ireland.

The report by Chris Patten's Independent Commission on the Future of Policing said there should be investment in research into finding an acceptable, less dangerous, alternative to the present baton round.

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