Belfast Telegraph

Police union chief reiterates backing for plastic bullets

By Deborah McAleese

As the PSNI prepares to publish a report into police methods used during the summer riots, the Police Federation has defended the controversial use of water cannon and plastic bullets.

PSNI figures (see panel on right) show that during 10 nights of the most serious rioting this summer, 350 plastic bullets were fired by police.

The largest number of plastic bullets fired at one location — 107 — was during violent disorder in north Belfast on July 12.

A total of 70 were fired during trouble in east Belfast on June 21 when officers came under live fire from both loyalist and republican paramilitaries.

The PSNI said the main reasons for firing the plastic bullets — officially known as AEPs (Attenuating Energy Projectiles) — were to protect officers, the public and to prevent an offence.

Although their use is strictly controlled, the tactics have been the subject of heated debate.

A review of the summer riots carried out by Assistant Chief Constable Alistair Finlay is due to be presented before the Policing Board early in the new year.

Police Federation chairman Terry Spence said he is “frustrated listening to nonsense” from some politicians who reject the use of the weapons to control riot situations in Northern Ireland.

“All this talk of protecting the human rights of the criminals and the rioters — do police officers not have human rights?

“If we were to be deprived of water cannons and AEPs then officers’ lives would be at risk.”

“It is not like public order situations in England, Scotland and Wales. During public disorder here officers are faced with blast bombs, nail bombs and gunfire from rioters wanting to kill them,” said Mr Spence.

But, chairman of the Policing Board’s human rights committee Conall McDevitt (below) has claimed that the weapons do not actually make Northern Ireland a safer place and that they should no longer be deployed.

The debate over their use has been reignited following a report this week by the Home Affairs Select Committee which has rejected the use of water cannon and plastic bullets in England.

The report by MPs is at odds with a report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary which recommended that tougher tactics should be used on English streets to deal with public disorder, including plastic bullets and water cannon.

DUP Policing Board member Jonathan Craig stated that “any sensible person will draw the conclusion that there should be a limited use of plastic bullets and water cannons to calm riots and save the lives of officers”.

Factfile

June 20, east Belfast: 57

June 21, east Belfast: 70

June 22, east Belfast: 3

July 1, west Belfast: 10

July 9, Antrim: 15

July 9, Newtownabbey:8

July 10, Carrickfergus: 2

July 10, Newtownabbey: 10

July 11, west Belfast: 20

July 12, north Belfast: 107

July 12, west Belfast: 27

July 15, Craigavon: 17

July 16, Craigavon: 4

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