11/12/2002

Numbers of plastic bullets fired by army rises sharply

A new report has revealed there has been a large increase in the number of plastic bullets fired by British Army soldiers in Northern Ireland.

The Independent Assessor of Military Complaints, Jim McDonald, said in his report published last night that more than 80 baton rounds were fired in the first 10 months of this year - compared to less than 20 for the whole of 2001.

However, Mr McDonald said that - as street violence also rose this year - the army were "justified" in all instances where the batons rounds were fired. In the report he goes on to recommend that military police teams be equipped with video cameras and deployed to record the precise circumstances in which batons rounds are discharged.

"This use of video would augment the statements justifying the use of baton rounds and may help with prosecution of offenders," he said.

Mr McDonald reported that between January 2002 and October 2022, soldiers fired 85 baton rounds in 11 separate incidents.

Rioting at the mainly Protestant Sandy Row in July led to 33 rounds being fired, while 17 rounds were discharged at the predominantly Catholic Short Strand in August. It was reported that eight rounds fired by soldiers struck the target in the upper torso, while 25 missed their target altogether.

"There is no evidence, despite speculation, that the military are used instead of police officers to fire baton rounds. Rioters are well organised, well experienced and often have the intent to kill or maim those whom they attack," Mr McDonald added.

The independent assessor also recommended that soldiers who fire rounds should be interviewed before going on leave in order to get a full recollection of the incident.

Secretary of State Paul Murphy said Mr McDonald's work in reviewing the training of those using baton rounds in the military – and the procedures for ensuring compliance with the established guidelines – was “valuable”.

Meanwhile the SDLP’s policing spokesperson Alex Attwood said the report’s confirmation that the army have been firing more plastic bullets “adds weight to the argument that any discharge of any weapon by the army should be reviewed by the Police Ombudsman”.

He added: “The Police Ombudsman investigates the discharges of all weapons by the PSNI. Given that the British Army act in support of the PSNI, their conduct in respect of the discharge of weapons should be subject to investigation and review by the Police Ombudsman.”

(AMcE)

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