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Friday, 1 March, 2002, 16:45 GMT
Man hurt by plastic bullet was 'lucky'
Baton gun used in north Wales shooting
A firearms instructor displays a baton gun
A man remains in hospital under police guard in north Wales after an officer fired a plastic baton round following a domestic disturbance.

The round - commonly called a plastic bullet - was fired by a North Wales Police officer who had been called to a house in Old Colwyn on Wednesday night.

Deputy Chief Constable Brereton holds a plastic bullet
Deputy Chief Constable Bill Brereton

It is thought to be the first time that the baton gun has been used in the UK - outside of Northern Ireland - since it was approved last year.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Deputy Chief Constable Bill Brereton agreed that the unnamed man was "lucky to be alive" and that the use of plastic bullets was preferable to live ammunition.

"In the circumstances the male who was struck by the baton was removed to hospital, was able to walk to the ambulance, and has some bruising and some internal bleeding to his abdomen but doesn't, as I understand it, have any serious injuries and that is far preferable to shooting him," he said.

"A year ago the options available ranged from talking to people to maybe using an open hand to push them away to considering a baton strike, considering a CS spray and then moving up to deploying a dog or ultimately shooting someone.

"And clearly before June when the Home Secretary approved the use of baton rounds, that option would not have been available. At that time it may well have been a case of resorting to using a firearm."

A senior officer has been appointed to investigate the incident under the supervision of the Police Complaints Authority.

Police were alerted by the ambulance service at 2100 GMT on Wednesday night following an erroneous report that a 26-year-old woman had been stabbed.

Another call followed shortly afterwards from a man threatening to kill his children with a "chopper".

Armed officers who attended the scene called for assistance as the man was incoherent, aggressive and armed with a knife.

Plastic bullet used during north Wales shooting
The baton round was fired at the man's stomach

Police broke into the house and found the man covered in blood.

Officers said that as the situation developed rapidly, an officer fired a baton round hitting the man in the stomach.

Despite this, police say he was able to walk to the ambulance.

The man is being treated at Glan Clwyd Hospital, Bodelwyddan, for bruising to the upper right hand side of his abdomen and ribcage with possible internal bleeding. He was also said to be suffering from self-inflicted slashes to his fingers.

Two children aged six and two, and the woman initially referred to were found safe and well.

'Good outcome'

Bill Brereton, Deputy Chief Constable of North Wales Police, said it appeared that in considering the options, his officers had taken the "lesser of two evils" in firing a baton round.

"There was very strong consideration as to what they should do," he said.

"Happily, in the circumstances, a firearm wasn't used.

"It knocked him back - it's given him some bruising, maybe bleeding to his stomach.

House in Old Colwyn, where a man was hit by a plastic bullet
Police at the scene were faced with difficult choices

"But he's not been shot - I think that's a good outcome."

The force has appointed a senior officer to investigate the discharge of the gun.

The investigation will be supervised by the Police Complaints Authority.

North Wales Police said they have had baton guns available for approximately six months.

The weapons were given ministerial approval in June 2001 for use by police forces in England and Wales as a less lethal option than live ammunition.

The baton gun discharges a plastic projectile - commonly known as a plastic bullet - in a single round.

The projectile is approximately 9cm long and 3cm wide.

Controversial issue

The use of baton guns in Northern Ireland since 1973 has been controversial.

They were introduced at the height of the Troubles as a theoretically non-lethal means of dispersing rioters.

An RUC officer fires a plastic baton round in a riot situation in Northern Ireland
Baton guns have been used in Northern Ireland

However, 14 people, seven of them children, have died after being hit by the PVC tube-shaped rounds.

Ten-year-old Stephen Geddis became the first and the youngest person to die after being hit by a baton round in Belfast in August 1975.

While soldiers said they had fired at stone-throwing children in a nationalist area, the government eventually paid compensation to the family.

BBC Wales's Matthew Richards
"After an hour of tense scenes... he was hit in the abdomen by a baton round"
Deputy Chief Constable Bill Brereton
"He's not been shot - I think that's a good outcome"
BBC Wales's Nan Pickering
"Officers were sent to his home and found him aggressive and armed with a knife"

Armed officerBaton rounds
Do you support the use of plastic bullets?
See also:

02 Aug 01 | Northern Ireland
The trouble with plastic bullets
02 Apr 01 | Northern Ireland
'Less lethal' police baton round
18 Jul 01 | Northern Ireland
Dispute over plastic bullets use
01 Jun 01 | Northern Ireland
NI plastic bullet records 'inadequate'
07 Apr 01 | Northern Ireland
Criticism over new baton rounds
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