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Policing Rubber bullets can be lethal, report warns

Health experts say authorities should stop use

HEALTH experts warned yesterday against the use of rubber or plastic bullets for crowd control, after a study confirmed that they can cause severe injury or death.

Research by Physicians for Human Rights and the International Network of Civil Liberties Organisations found that 3 per cent of people hit by the projectiles died from the injuries they sustained, while almost three out of four (71 per cent) suffered severe injuries.

More than 15 per cent of survivors were left with a permanent disability and several studies showed that the bullets also injured peaceful demonstrators and bystanders instead of the intended targets.

The study, published in medical journal BMJ Open, looked at the use of rubber and plastic bullets by Britain, the United States, Israel, Switzerland, Turkey and in south Asian countries from 1990 to this year.

The researchers concluded that the bullets “do not appear to be an appropriate means of force in crowd-control settings. Our findings indicate that these weapons have the potential to cause severe injuries and death.”

Rubber bullets were first used by British troops in Northern Ireland in 1970, targeting civil rights demonstrations.

Nearly 43,000 rubber or plastic bullets were fired in the six counties between 1972 and 1981. By 2005, a shocking 125,000 baton rounds had been fired, most of which were plastic bullets — they replaced rubber bullets in 1975.

Despite the European Parliament calling on member states to ban rubber and plastic bullets, they continued to be used by British forces in Northern Ireland.

They were initially intended to be fired into the ground, from where they would bounce up and hit people in the legs, causing injury. However, rubber bullets were often used at close range.

Seventeen people were killed by the bullets in Northern Ireland, eight of them children. Ten-year-old Stephen Geddis became the first person to be killed by a plastic bullet when he was hit in west Belfast in 1975. In a notorious case, 12-year-old Carol Ann Kelly was shot dead by a soldier from the Royal Fusiliers in 1981.

A coroner ruled last month that the 1972 killing of 11-year-old Francis Rowntree, who was hit by a rubber bullet fired by a British solider in Belfast, was not justified. He was shot in the head, causing skull fractures and lacerations of the brain, and died two days later.

Police considered using plastic bullets during the 2011 London riots but decided against it.

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