Home Office under fire over police weapons rules

By agency reporter
October 1, 2010

Amnesty International has expressed grave concern that the Taser XREP projectile and X12 shot gun were used by UK police without having gone through the official weapons testing and approval process.

The organisation's comments follow the recent revelation that the weapons distribution company – Pro-Tect Systems – had issued the police these weapons without Home Office authorisation.  Pro-Tect Systems has since had its licence suspended.

“No new weapon or equipment should used by the police until it has passed a rigorous and transparent safety, testing and approvals process,” insisted Oliver Sprague, Amnesty's Arms Programme Director.

Sprague, who is best known for his work on the international arms trade, explained that, “The Taser XREP is far more powerful than the traditional Taser with a considerably longer 20-second shock cycle.  As a projectile fired from a shot gun, there are serious concerns over its accuracy and reliability as well as the risk of causing unnecessary injury.”

Results from a 2008 independent assessment funded by safety testing authorities in the UK, the USA and Canada have found the XREP projectile to be inaccurate with a high failure rate.  

Amnesty is urging the Home Office to review its decision to enable Chief Constables to authorise the use of any weapon as long as its use is "lawful, reasonable and proportionate", apparently even if these weapons have not been thoroughly tested or approved for use.

At a minimum, Amnesty believes that this should include testing the efficacy of the weapon, medical safety testing and evidence that its use is compatible with proportionate and lawful use of force, in line with international human rights standards.

“The UK has in place some of the world’s toughest approvals and testing processes for new police weapons,” said Sprague, “What is the point of having such a robust system if Chief Constables are, it seems, able to bypass rigorous testing and approvals and deploy any weapon they see fit?”

Amnesty insists that any new police weapons should be considered only if there is a recognised gap in capability that cannot be overcome in any other way.

International standards on police use of force and weaponry encourage the development of “less lethal” weapons, but also stipulate that any such weaponry should be very carefully evaluated and controlled.

Amnesty said that the decision to  allow discretion for Chief Constables to deploy XREP or any similar emerging technologies in absence of rigorous testing and approvals process, including clear procedures set in place for how and when they can be used, is a clear breach of international standards.

Sprague argued that a weapon such as the XREP should not be in the UK police force’s arsenal until it has gone through all the necessary checks and is shown to be safe to use.

"If and when such approval is given, the XREP should be given only to specialist firearms officers and used when there in an imminent threat to life," he said.


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