23rd May 2002 – Ombudsman’s report on plastic bullets merely

Speaking in advance of tomorrow's report by the Office of the Ombudsman
into the use of plastic bullets spokesperson for the United Campaign
Against Plastic Bullets, Clara Reilly, said:

'Tomorrow the Ombudsman will publish a report into the use of plastic
bullets by the RUC/PSNI. The report deals with 36 plastic bullets being
fired during several incidents by the RUC/PSNI – not the British army –
over a 12-month period, where 26 people were injured. The report will
detail 5 instances, of the 26, where people who sustained injuries made
complaints. Of these five, and the remainder, the report concludes that
the use of plastic bullets were 'justified' and used in situations
where there was 'provocation'. The report also goes on to say that
there was ‘no misconduct on the part of the police’ and they acted
‘with great restraint’. None of the complaints were upheld.

‘We find this situation absolutely incredible and one that will
reinforce the view within the nationalist community that the
Ombudsman's Office is a toothless tiger. It is clear that with such
findings that this report lacked any real investigative procedures and
was merely perfunctory.

'The Ombudsman's report is not the result of any quantifiable or
substantial research into the effects of plastic bullets and does not
take into consideration any of the serious injuries and fatalities
caused by their continued use. There is a real danger that this report
may be used, or be interpreted by some to justify the ongoing use of
plastic bullets. Such attempts or spin must be challenged.

'The Ombudsman's report must be seen in its broader context concerning
the use of plastic bullets whereby it can be measured against existing
reports with full terms of reference that included quantifiable and
substantial research. One such report is that of the United Nations
Human Right Committee who last October severely criticised the British
Government for retaining plastic bullets. Previously other reputable
organisations in the human rights community, including the United
Nations Committee Against Torture, have deemed plastic bullets as a
weapon of torture and called for them to be discontinued.

'The use of plastic bullets on civilians contravenes international
standards on human rights, which the British Government pledged to
uphold. Aside from retaining plastic bullets, their use in numerous
incidents over this past 12 months have demonstrated a flagrant
disregard for any standards.' ENDS

Editors notes:

  • The Ombudsman’s Report doesn’t deal with the full experience or impact of the use of plastic bullets.

  • This
    report deals with 5 individual complaints, in the context of 36
    officially fired bullets by PSNI. The figure for plastic bullets being
    fired in this past 12-months by far exceeds the overall figure examined
    in this report.

  • There
    is no independent mechanism to account and verify for the numbers of
    plastic bullets fired. Plastic bullets must be treated in the same way
    as lethal live ammunition.

  • The
    Ombudsman cannot examine plastic bullets fired by the British army
    despite the British army being deployed by the PSNI/RUC under the role
    of police primacy. In addition the MOD have refused to publish its own
    guidelines governing the use of plastic bullets.

  • The
    hospitals have stopped recording injuries are as a result of plastic
    bullets. Therefore unless there is a direct complaint to the
    Ombudsman’s office by someone who suffered an injury there is no
    independent observation of the volume or nature of injuries incurred as
    a result of their use.

  • The
    impact of ricochets of plastic bullets fired needs to made public
    immediately. The MOD's own research by the Defence Scientific Advisory
    Council reported on the impact of ricochets yet the Ministry for
    Defence and the British Home Office have flatly refused to publish
    these findings – why?. This is an outstanding matter in relation to the
    new plastic bullet as well as being of public interest.