Moat police force top stun gun-use list
Northumbria Police, which is facing questions about its use of Taser stun guns during a stand-off with gunman Raoul Moat, topped a recent league for the number of incidents in which a Taser was aimed or used.
The force reported even more incidents involving stun guns than the Metropolitan Police which covers a population more than five times larger.
Figures released last summer showed Northumbria Constabulary, which covers a population of around 1.4 million people, had recorded 704 incidents in which a Taser was used in some way, even if it was only aimed, between April 2004 and August 2009 when the statistics were released.
The Metropolitan Police, which covers a population of more than 7.4 million, recorded 700 Taser incidents.
The use of Tasers has always been controversial in Britain and human rights group Amnesty International has repeatedly said they should only be used where lives are at risk.
The stun guns fire two electric barbs up to 35 feet and deliver a disabling 50,000-volt shock, which can penetrate clothing up to two inches thick. It leaves targets incapacitated and easier to arrest.
Moat was said by witnesses to be holding a gun to his head during the stand-off but Northumbria Police has refused to answer questions about when exactly the stun guns were used or to explain the reason for their use at that exact moment.
Arizona-based Taser International, which manufactures the weapons, says they are designed to temporarily stun a suspect, forcing him or her to collapse into a foetal ball, so the person can be arrested.
It insists the device causes no long-term injuries and only short-term skin irritation but accepts there is a danger of eye injury if it is fired at someone's face.
Human rights groups claim Tasers can be lethal and in 2008 Amnesty International said 334 people had died in the US since 2001 after being shot by the weapons.
The weapon was first used on a human by British police on August 3, 2003, when officers in London encountered a man armed with two handguns.
It had been deployed once previously, by North Wales Police in June 2003, against a dangerous dog which was running amok in Wrexham.
The incidents came during a 12-month trial by the Northamptonshire, Metropolitan, North Wales, Thames Valley and Lincolnshire forces.
During the trial Tasers were deployed in 60 incidents and aimed 40 times but actually fired only 13 times.
The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) said the weapon had been shown to have a significant deterrent effect.
Firearms officers became authorised to carry Taser guns in 2004, the same year that a survey of 1,164 people found 90% thought firearms officers and specially-trained officers should be allowed to use them.
The Home Office authorised officers to use Tasers in a wider range of circumstances from July 2007. Officers had been able to use the high-voltage weapons only in circumstances when they could have used a conventional firearm but the new rules allowed Tasers to be used in less serious incidents but when they still faced violence or threats of violence.
Non-firearms officers were authorised to use the weapons - provided they were given additional training - in September 2007 under a pilot scheme involving 10 forces.
The following year the Home Office expanded the scheme to all 43 forces in England and Wales and use of the stun guns increased by nearly a third.
In November 2008 Home Secretary Jacqui Smith announced 10,000 Tasers would be issued to specially trained officers.
Ms Smith said she was proud Britain had one of the few police services around the world that did not regularly carry firearms but added: "I want to give the police the tools they tell me they need to confront dangerous people."
Extra funding for a further 6,000 new Tasers was announced in March last year.
In June last year the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) brought in new rules which meant police forces had to pass all complaints about Taser guns to the police watchdog.
British Transport Police officers armed with electric stun guns were deployed on the rail network for the first time in December last year in pilot schemes in London, Cardiff and Manchester.
Police officers, including the late Manchester chief constable Michael Todd, have volunteered to be stunned by a Taser to show its effects.
Detective Constable Joe Holness, from Kent Police, volunteered at the Police Federation's 2005 conference, and 95% of delegates later voted in favour of all operational police officers being issued with Tasers.
In 2007 North Wales chief constable Richard Brunstrom was seen screaming "bloody hell" in a video as he was stung by a Taser.
Mr Brunstrom was hit with the Taser gun for 1.5 seconds before telling his officers: "That was long enough, thanks."