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BBC NI's Seamus McKee
speaks to Claire Reilly of the United Campaign Against Plastic Bullets
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Friday, 1 June, 2001, 21:38 GMT 22:38 UK
NI plastic bullet records 'inadequate'
Disturbances in west Belfast after a loyalist parade in 2000
Plastic bullet use is controversial in Northern Ireland
The police in Northern Ireland have been accused of keeping inadequate records on the firing of plastic bullets.

Important documents were missing in several files about the use of baton rounds, according to research conducted for the Human Rights Commission.

The report was published to coincide with the official introduction on Friday of a new type of plastic bullet.

The government has said the new baton rounds, which have been issued to the police and army in both Britain and Northern Ireland, are "more accurate and less lethal".

Brice Dickson: "Plastic bullet use must be meticulously recorded"
However, chief Northern Ireland human rights commissioner Professor Brice Dickson said: "There are serious questions over whether this new bullet is safer than its predecessor.

"Regardless of that, it is vital that where such a weapon is used, its deployment must be accurately and meticulously recorded so that any questions concerning the legitimacy of its use can be meaningfully explored after the event."

Research was carried out last October on 20 random files on the firing of 122 plastic bullets by RUC officers between 1997 and 2000.

The documents suggested a total of 48 people had been hit, but no disciplinary or court actions had resulted.

Chain of authority

In its report the Human Rights Commission found that:

  • Files often took months to complete
  • Files were poorly maintained
  • The principal form used by sub-divisional commanders is inadequate
  • Witness statements were often presented in an overly standardised manner
  • 72 of the 189 witness statements were not properly signed by the officer making them
  • Not enough detail about the level of violence at the time bullets were fired
  • In many the chain of authority was not made clear
  • Several files were closed when they should not have been by any meaningful standard of accountability.

    The report recommends designing new forms for police chiefs to fill in requiring more information about circumstances of plastic bullet shootings.

    Claire Reilly, chairwoman of the United Campaign Against Plastic Bullets, said plastic and rubber bullets had left "a catalogue of carnage, grief and brutal oppression".

    "Plastic bullets have been condemned by every major human rights group throughout the world, including the European Parliament which on four occasions called for a complete ban," she said.

    There were double standards operated by the government over the control of riots in Northern Ireland compared to the rest of the UK, she said.

    Reacting to the report an RUC spokesman said the police had had cooperated fully with the human rights commission study.

    She said the RUC had not received the final report. But stressed that "the RUC's full co-operation should make it obvious it is totally committed to improving an enhancing the administrative and recording systems".

    Protest rally

    Meanwhile, campaigners against the new plastic bullet held a protest in Londonderry on Thursday evening.

    The bullets have killed 17 people in Northern Ireland
    At the rally at Guildhall Square the organisers read out the names of the 17 people killed by plastic bullets during disturbances in Northern Ireland.

    Campaigners at the rally said the new device is more lethal than the one it is to replace.

    Announcing the new plastic bullets in April, Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid said a study by the Defence Scientific Advisory Council found the new round was lighter, faster and safer.

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

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