PSNI forced into rethink on stun guns

 

PSNI Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde was today forced into a rethink over plans to arm police officers in Northern Ireland with 50,000-volt stun guns.

A report found the PSNI has still to develop a proper legal and human rights policy over the use of controversial Taser weapons.

In a 45-page dossier drawn up for the Policing Board, experts said police proposals did not show situations where use of the guns would be immediately necessary to prevent firearms being drawn.

Human rights experts Keir Starmer QC and Jane Gordon, who compiled the advisory paper, said Tasers should be treated as potentially lethal equipment.

Their assessment did not mean their use could never be compatible with European legislation on the right to life.

But the lawyers stressed the proper test centred on the need to show Tasers would reduce the likelihood of resorting to conventional guns.

"We are concerned that none of the official bodies charged with considering the use of Taser have publicly addressed the legal and human rights frameworks within which Taser can or should be used," the report said.

Sir Hugh had confirmed to the Policing Board last week that he has decided to equip the electro-shock guns for specialist officers. But after discussions with the body's human rights committee in Belfast today, he has accepted the action points raised in the report.

Despite Tasers already being used by forces in Britain, a bitter campaign has been fought over their introduction in Northern Ireland.

Tasers have been drawn nearly 700 times in the UK fired 242 times, without any deaths or serious injuries, the report said.

But with a number of sudden deaths after the guns are used, the direct links to being hit is disputed.

Less debated are the groups most vulnerable to Tasers: those suffering from mental illness, drunk or on drugs. The full effects on children and pregnant women are not known.

SDLP Policing Board member Dolores Kelly reiterated her opposition to Tasers - even for the PSNI's limited purposes. "The fact is that these weapons have killed at least 15 people in the US and Canada," she said.