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28 February 2002 Edition

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British Army plastic bullet use targeted

The United Campaign Against Plastic Bullets, Relatives for Justice and the Pat Finucane Centre have called on the Policing Board, ultimately accountable for all plastic bullets fired by the RUC/PSNI, to take their responsibilities seriously and demand the same control over plastic bullets fired by the British Army in so-called policing situations.

The call comes following the renewed refusal of Minister of State, Adam Ingram, to reveal the guidelines governing the use of plastic bullets by the British Army.

Campaigners have called on churches, trade unions and the political parties to back their campaign for declassification of the existing MoD guidelines.

Seventeen Irish people have been killed by rubber and plastic bullets since 1972, twelve of those by the British Army. When the RUC/PSNI fire plastic bullets, their use is automatically investigated. There is no such investigation into plastic bullets fired by the British Army. The weapons and bullets are exactly the same.

RUC/PSNI use of plastic bullets is regulated by ACPO guidelines which are in the public domain. The rules for the British Army remain classified, despite repeated requests that they be made public. The MoD say that the rules for the British Army are different to the RUC/PSNI because they apply to all "overseas operational theatres", but 99.6% of plastic bullets fired by the British Army since 1981 have been fired in the north of Ireland.

Clara Reilly, spokesperson for the United Campaign Against Plastic Bullets, said: "This situation cannot be allowed to continue. If a member of the RUC/PSNI fires a plastic bullet in North Belfast tonight there is an automatic investigation by the Ombudsman. If the same person tells a British soldier standing beside him/her to fire this lethal weapon there is no investigation. Now we are told that complaints about British Army use should be made to the PSNI yet they are no longer deemed fit to investigate complaints against themselves."

"Since the RUC could not effectively and impartially investigate the deaths caused through plastic bullets by the British Army in the past, how can we have confidence that they will do so in the future?

"Until plastic bullets are completely banned the only tenable position for the Policing Board is to demand the declassification of the British Army's rules governing the use of plastic bullets as a minimum first step. The second step is to ensure that the use of plastic bullets by the British Army will also result in automatic and independent investigation. Realisation of these two demands will result in a reduction in the amount of plastic bullets fired. Until then, the Policing Board must accept all responsibility for the consequences of the use of plastic bullets."

The British Army have fired 14,801 plastic bullets in the north of Ireland since 1981. 58 were fired during a single incident in Kosovo in February 2000. There are no other reported cases of the British Army using plastic bullets outside of Ireland since 1981 (figures: Hansard).

On 1 June 2001 a new and deadlier plastic bullet was introduced in the North. Before being abolished, the Police Authority, forerunner to the Policing Board, purchased 50,000 plastic bullets.

For further information on the issue of plastic bullets see:

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