28/05/2002

Police use of plastic bullets “justified” says watchdog

The use of plastic baton rounds by police over the past year was “fully justified” a Police Ombudsman report has concluded.

The Police Ombudsman’s report published on Tuesday deals with seven incidents, which took place in Counties Armagh and Antrim over a twelve-month period (April 2001 to March 2002).

Police fired 36 baton rounds during these incidents and 26 people were injured. At least 117 police officers were injured during the incidents that involved serious rioting and attacks on the police by rioters using petrol, paint, acid and blast bombs.

The Ombudsman’s report states: “In all incidents examined the Police Ombudsman’s investigators concluded that the discharge of the baton rounds was fully justified and proportionate, as were the authorisation and directions given.”

The report adds: “No occurrences of police misconduct were found.”

However Clara Reilly of the group United Campaign Against Plastic Bullets said: “We find this situation absolutely incredible and one that will reinforce the view within the nationalist community that the Ombudsman's Office is a toothless tiger. It is clear that with such findings that this report lacked any real investigative procedures and was merely perfunctory.”

“There is a real danger that this report may be used, or be interpreted by some to justify the ongoing use of plastic bullets,” she added.

Commenting on the report, Chairman of the Board, Professor Desmond Rea, said: “We are pleased that in each incident the stringent procedures for discharging baton rounds were rigidly followed.

“This is an important issue for the Policing Board and, at the April meeting, Members received a comprehensive presentation on baton rounds and the alternatives which are being researched. We have asked Government to complete this research as soon as possible.

“Obviously everyone in the community would much prefer to be in a position where the police do not have to resort to such measures but there is a duty of care to police officers as well as members of the public.”

The Secretary of State, Dr John Reid also welcomed the Ombudsman's report.

“It is those who cause riots and direct potentially murderous attacks on the security forces and others who are responsible for the need for baton rounds to be used to protect life,” Dr Reid said today.

“I welcome the findings in this report that in each of the cases investigated, the use of the rounds was fully justified and proportionate, as were the authorisation and directions given.

“Our objective remains the same - to reach the position in which the need to use baton rounds will ultimately disappear. The whole community has a contribution to make to achieve that aim but unfortunately we are not there yet.”

(AMcE)

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