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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 April, 2003, 06:17 GMT 07:17 UK
Baton rounds 'more dangerous'
Police officer with plastic bullet weapon
Government considering two possible alternatives
Plastic bullets introduced almost two years ago in Northern Ireland as a safer alternative are more dangerous than the weapons they replaced, according to a report.

The report produced for the Human Rights Commission found that the newer rounds hit harder than the old plastic bullets.

The L21A1 baton rounds were intended to provide greater accuracy for police and soldiers in riot control when they were introduced in June 2001.

The use of plastic bullets is one of a number of key issues that Sinn Fein has highlighted during its continuing talks with the UK government.

We are particularly concerned about the potential danger to children from injury by the baton round and indeed some children have already been hurt by it
Brice Dickson
NI Human Rights Commission
The BBC understands that the government hopes to have a replacement for plastic bullets for riot control before the end of this year.

Two possible alternatives are currently being considered.

Seventeen people have been killed by plastic and rubber bullets throughout the Troubles.

The independent Omega group's research found that more than 10% of new L21A1 rounds have caused injury, compared with a 1.14% injury rate with the previous rounds.

The group said one in three rounds missed its target and claimed that, in some cases, rounds had been fired in violation of guidelines.

The Army's record keeping and accountability processes were criticised as "flawed".

Human Rights Commission chief Brice Dickson said the findings were disturbing.

"We are particularly concerned about the potential danger to children from injury by the baton round and indeed some children have already been hurt by it.

"The authorities should note that the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has called for the baton round to be withdrawn from use in riot control," he said.

The report called for Police Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan to have the power to investigate use of plastic bullets by the Army as well as the PSNI.

Monitoring

It said: "The official reporting of numbers of rounds fired by both the police and the Army shows lamentable inconsistencies.

"Accountability for all firings would be greatly enhanced and assisted by forensically marking all baton rounds with a unique identifier which cannot be removed."

However, the Army rejected claims that there was no mechanism for monitoring all baton rounds fired by soldiers.

A spokesman said: "There is an independent military commissioner, Jim McDonald, so that allegation is entirely untrue.

"Army forces are also accountable to the law, and should anyone have cause for complaint representation should be made either to Army headquarters at Lisburn or the police."




SEE ALSO:
Unionists warn on bullets change
04 Apr 03  |  Northern Ireland
Plastic bullet alternative 'in sight'
03 Apr 03  |  Northern Ireland
'No plastic bullet alternative'
19 Dec 02  |  Northern Ireland
Increase in plastic bullet use
10 Dec 02  |  Northern Ireland
Plastic bullet use 'justified'
28 May 02  |  Northern Ireland


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