Police get thumbs up to turn streets into a warzone

Tuesday 20 December 2011
by Paddy McGuffin, Home Affairs Reporter

Proposals to let police use baton rounds, water cannon and even live ammunition during riots are “madness” and risk turning the streets into warzones, campaigners warned today.

A review by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) claimed firearms could be used if the “immediacy of the risk and the gravity of the consequences” justified it and baton rounds and water cannon could be used on rioters.

The Home Office commissioned the report following the August riots, and HMIC said that police need to be better prepared and trained if they’re to face such violence and looting in the future.

It called for clear rules to govern what kind of force was used and when, and which would have public support.

These rules could include making clear that armed police could use firearms with live ammunition during “arson attacks on commercial buildings with linkage to residential dwellings.”

And officials said plastic bullets could be considered if protesters put up barricades and throw missiles, during violent attacks on the public and when other emergency services are under threat.

They could also be used when petrol bombs are thrown or during arson attacks.

HMIC added that water cannon were an “effective means of dispersal and incur fewer injuries to the public” in static and slow-moving scenarios.

They are a “good option to protect vulnerable areas and premises,” but it conceded there were none on the British mainland, cost more than £1 million each and should be used in pairs.

The review flies in the face of stark warnings issued by the Commons home affairs select committee this week, which said it would have been “inappropriate as well as dangerous to have employed water cannon and baton rounds.”

Their use “could have escalated and inflamed the situation further.”

And Green Party member of the Metropolitan Police Authority Jenny Jones said the recommendations were “absolutely unbelievable.”

“Endorsing the use of live ammunition is an approval of the tactics of war on Britain’s streets and implementing such recommendations would be madness,” she said.

While Shami Chakrabarti, director of human rights campaign group Liberty, said: “The police have always been able to use violent force to save lives in extreme situations. No new power or strategy is required for that to remain the case.

“But how on earth would bullets have quelled and not inflamed this summer’s riots? Didn’t the widespread disorder all begin in Tottenham with a fatal police shooting?”



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