5 April 2001 Edition
Plastic bullet law to stay
British anger victims' relatives as Patten report is ignored again
BY LAURA FRIEL
Nationalists and republicans have slammed the British government's decision to issue a new type of plastic bullet, another rejection of the Patten Report, which recommended the use of plastic bullets should be ``discontinued as soon as possible''. The new projectile will be issued to the RUC and British Army from 1 June, before the height of the Orange marching season.
``Not once were those injured by the use of plastic bullets or the bereaved families consulted,'' said Clara Reilly, spokesperson for the United Campaign Against Plastic Bullets. She said the British `workign group' that recommended the new bullet, ``like every other initiative designed by the British government, chose to ignore the real facts''.
``People know the truth about plastic and rubber bullets - and we know that in time this latest move too will inevitably and sadly have deadly consequences.
``feeble or hollow guarantees and assurances are simply not good enough. Plastic bullets should never be allowed again anywhere, especially in the hands of unreformed sectarian bigots.
``We find it ironic that at a time when we daily hear the British government demanding decommissioning, that they are equally and vigorously engaged in designing a new weapon to fire at civilians.''
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According to the British Ministry of Defence, the L21A1 round is made of resin and is accurate up to 50 yards, twice the distance of previous examples of this weapon. The British government claim that by using a new optical sight, the new plastic bullet is consistently more accurate and this accuracy reduces the probability of it causing life threatening and serious injury.
Similar claims were made by the British when they replaced the rubber bullet with the plastic bullet in the late 1970s. In the wake of increasing public perception of the rubber bullet as an unacceptable lethal weapon used against unarmed civilians, the British government replaced it with a plastic bullet, which it claimed was less deadly because it was more accurate. It was a cynical lie.
In the early 1970s, extensive experimentation on impact weapons by the US military concluded that a weapon developed in the USA which had an impact energy of 90 foot pounds when fired at a range of 50 yards was too dangerous to be deployed. The British plastic bullet has an impact energy of 110 foot pounds, greater than that of the weapon rejected by American scientists.
In 1976, a British scientist also identified the plastic bullet as far more dangerous than the rubber bullet it was to replace. The British deployed it anyway.
As predicted, the plastic bullet proved to be nine times more deadly than the rubber bullet. In 1972, a medical study initiated and carried out by surgeons working in the Royal Victoria Hospital in West Belfast into injuries sustained by rubber bullets raised concerns about the number and severity of head injuries. The British argued that these injuries were the result of the weapon's ``inaccuracy'' rather than the illegal actions of the British Army and RUC who consistently ignored the rules governing the use of rubber bullets and inflicted maximum damage by aiming at the heads of unarmed civilian protesters. Rubber bullets were supposed to be fired at the ground before hitting the intended victim.
The British claim that the increased accuracy of the plastic bullet would reduce the number of fatal injuries was a cynical misrepresentation of the deployment of the plastic bullet as a weapon of mass intimidation. In the hands of the British Army and RUC a more accurate weapon just meant a more deadly weapon.
And now the same lie is being peddled again.
To offset intense international pressure to ban the plastic bullet, the British Army has developed a replacement, a new user-friendly version, or so they would have us believe.
Announcing the introduction of the new plastic bullet, British Home Secretary Jack Straw claimed ``there will be a smaller risk of serious injury or death when the new baton round is used''. He admitted, however, that ``risk has not been eliminated and the new, like the old, will be used in situations of public disorder only in accordance with the existing strict guidelines''.
Just who does Jack Straw think he is kidding?