Police use of Tasers - Home Affairs Committee Contents

Examination of Witness (Questions 1-47)



Q1   Chair: This is a one-off session of the Home Affairs Select Committee into Tasers. Could I refer all those present to the Register of Members' Interests, where the interests of all Members are noted? Are there any other interests that need to be declared formally?

Mark Reckless: I am a member of the Kent Police Authority.

Chair: Mr Reckless is a member of the Kent Police Authority.

Alun Michael: My son is the Chief Executive of the North Wales Police Authority.

Q2   Chair: Mr Michael's son is the Chief Executive of the North Wales Police Authority.

Mr Coles, thank you for coming to give evidence to us today. I know you have your legal representative with you, but we will be directing questions to you.

Before I begin, may I make just a very short statement? This is an inquiry generally into the issue of Tasers. I would like to clarify that this evidence session is not regarding the death of Raoul Moat, although issues relating to it may well be the subject of questioning. The death of Mr Moat is currently the subject of an IPCC investigation. Prosecutions are ongoing against those alleged to have aided Mr Moat and, as such, must be considered sub judice. However, the preceding events that led to Tasers that were not authorised by the Home Office being given to Northumbria Police are not sub judice. As Northamptonshire Police have concluded their investigation into the conduct of Pro-Tect Systems Limited and have announced that they are not intending to prosecute, we may question witnesses about that. That is what we are interested in today.

Mr Coles, to start off with, if I could ask you: can you take us through the events of July of last year, when your company supplied these Tasers to a number of police authorities?

Kevin Coles: Well, the supplies, as far as we were concerned—and our legal representation had told us—we thought we were in order to supply. Presumably you're just talking about the X12 and XREP Tasers. We were content that we could supply those to Lincolnshire Police, in the first instance, which is one of the instances. Also, with the case in July, when my business partner took it upon himself to come to the aid of Northumbria Police and take the units to them, we didn't think there was anything wrong in the supply, but obviously the transport did become an issue and hence us losing our section 5 authority.

Q3   Chair: How many police forces did your company supply these Tasers to, because they were obviously unauthorised by the Home Office?

Kevin Coles: We were allowed to bring them into the country. We were allowed to hold them. We thought the original section 5 authority we had covered us for all Taser devices, and we had letters that reinforced that from the Americans that "Taser" is a generic word—not unlike "Hoover" for vacuum cleaners—that covers all sorts of devices within their scope. The only force that we had supplied was Lincolnshire Police so that the NPIA could show them to prospective firearms instructors. They were just for the purposes of seeing the emerging technology. That technology has been used successfully elsewhere in the world for 18 months, and it has been in development for six years or so. I myself have been wired into it—very effective, very safe and very accurate.

Q4   Chair: Which were the police forces that you supplied to?

Kevin Coles: Sorry. Lincolnshire Police and Northumbria Police.

Q5   Chair: As far as you are aware, was it only Northumbria that used these Tasers, or had Lincolnshire also used them?

Kevin Coles: The delivery was made to Northumbria Police by my business partner. When I questioned him about it afterwards—he'd had 32 years as a police officer; very experienced—he said to me that he had taken them to Northumbria Police and he quoted article 2 of the Human Rights Act. It was something that I wasn't aware had taken place, so obviously I did ask him about it. Lincolnshire Police—it was just for the purposes for the NPIA to train, show and exhibit.

Q6   Chair: So as far as you are aware, Lincolnshire Police never used these Tasers?

Kevin Coles: Oh, no, they certainly didn't use them.

Q7   Chair: Only Northumbria?

Kevin Coles: They were delivered to Northumbria. Lincolnshire Police didn't use them. They were just for display purposes.

Q8   Chair: Yes. And would this request come by way of a letter, or would they send you an e-mail: "Please supply X number of Tasers"?

Kevin Coles: We'd have an official order come through, yes, in the normal way, with all the other Taser products—the cartridges and the X26. We would have an official order come through to the company.

Q9   Chair: And obviously your partner, Mr Boatman, committed suicide shortly after these events took place?

Kevin Coles: They haven't come to a decision on his passing yet. It is still waiting on the inquest.

Chair: Right. Sorry.

Kevin Coles: It was widely reported in the media that way, which caused a lot of distress to the family, because there is some debate about that.

Q10   Chair: But you have now had your licence terminated by the Home Office.

Kevin Coles: Yes, we have.

Q11   Chair: Did that come as a surprise to you?

Kevin Coles: Yes, although once it was made clear that the delivery was in breach, obviously that was a sanction that the Secretary of State had. We're very sorry that the delivery took place now, for obvious reasons, but I can fully understand why that sanction was put in place.

Q12   Chair: To be clear to the Committee, your contract has been terminated, but you are still authorised to deal with this in the interim?

Kevin Coles: In the interim.

Q13   Chair: Is there another company that is able to do this work?

Kevin Coles: We have a temporary authority to the end of December. By chance, our authority actually expired at the start of September at the end of a three-year authority, so we had a very short 20-day authority because the decision wasn't announced. So we had a 20-day authority that we could still trade as normal.

Legal Advisor: Is there another company?

Chair: Sorry, it is important that, if you have anything to say to your client, you pass him a note rather than interrupt his evidence to the Committee.

Legal Advisor: I apologise. I was anxious that he answered your question. That was what I was asking him to do.

Q14   Chair: I see. Thank you for that. You are at liberty to pass him a note if you wish because the whole Committee would very much like to hear what he is saying.

One final question from me: on 31 December, when your temporary licence expires, who will be authorised to supply Tasers?

Kevin Coles: Taser International approached the Home Office. They'd found a new distributor for the UK. Obviously the Home Office then wanted to go through a number of investigations. Historically, they can take a month or two—it does take a bit of time to go through all the details. They have to do firearms licence and have to do inspections and I presume—

Q15   Chair: At the moment there is nobody who can take over?

Kevin Coles: No. They appointed a distributor, but then had to get a section 5 authority, and my understanding is that was granted on Friday last week. So there is a replacement company and a new section 5 distributor in place. I believe they have to get one or two things sorted out on security and stuff, but once those are in place, which is a very simple fix, there will then be a transition.

Q16   Mark Reckless: I think I may now be clear on this, but I thought you had said that you had taken advice and were supplying to Northumbria because of article 2, which I'd assumed was article 2 right to life in the ECHR?

Kevin Coles: That was what my business partner said. I've never been a police officer—I was more the business end and my business partner was our resident expert. Obviously I questioned it, because I did say to him basically, "Why didn't you—" He went in the very early hours of the morning. He'd had a telephone conversation and he'd gone off in the early hours of the morning. I wasn't aware that he'd gone until the following morning. I said, "Well, why didn't you give me a shout?", and in truth I would have gone with him because I thought it was in order. As I say, we did have a pretty generic authority for all Taser devices. Obviously the delivery to Northumbria was a problem because it was one person, which is why, ultimately, I think the authority was taken away from us.

Q17   Mark Reckless: Mr Coles, just to clarify if you—or perhaps your legal advisor—are able, when you referred now to article 2, and that being the basis on which you supplied, we had assumed that would be a reference to article 2 of the ECHR?

Kevin Coles: It was. That was what my business partner said. I didn't know the supply was going to take place, but when I said to him—

Q18   Mark Reckless: Mr Coles, if I could just interrupt. We have had a letter from one of the Ministers, Mr Brokenshire, which refers to article 2 of the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms. We just wondered whether the reference might be to that, or is it to the ECHR—or do you not know?

Kevin Coles: I thought it was Human Rights. Normally, in those circumstances, he would quote something to me and, in truth, I just took it that he knew what he was talking about and I sort of nodded. I thought it was to do with human rights and the right to life.

Q19   Dr Huppert: I am fascinated by your description that it was a very, very early trip. There is something that seems a bit odd about a rush delivery of weapons somewhere in the wee hours of the morning. But can I ask a bit more—

Kevin Coles: I can elaborate on that if you want.

Dr Huppert: Right, yes.

Kevin Coles: It was because he'd been in conversation and the situation was pretty unique—it was an emergency situation—and with him having been a police officer for 32 years and used to putting himself in harm's way. With hindsight, it was definitely a rushed trip, but it was him wanting to help because he knew a technology was there that could save somebody's life.

Q20   Dr Huppert: Presumably that means there is no way the people this was supplied to could have been trained in it? If it was a rush job it was, "Here's a weapon; go and use it".

Kevin Coles: The launch platform is a shotgun and all firearms officers are very well acquainted with shotguns, and it is a very simplistic platform. It's not unlike shooting an air rifle, because it has a very low primer and it has no recoil and not a lot of sound, and it is very accurate. It's a very simple piece of equipment.

Q21   Dr Huppert: If we talk about the shotgun, yes, it is a very large shotgun. According to Taser International's web page it "Autonomously generates neuromuscular incapacitation for 20 continuous seconds". So it is different from a shotgun. It is different from the existing Tasers, which give a shock only when the trigger is pulled. So are you saying that, although this is a completely different class of weapon, no training would be required for it to be used in an emergency basis, and this didn't ring any alarms?

Kevin Coles: The shotgun is the launch platform. You could say it's almost like a little satellite. The launch platform is the shotgun, but it's not tethered; it's not wired. It's just, if they can use a shotgun, what type of projectile is inside it is almost an irrelevance. Because if they're doing a breaching round or a solid slug, as long as they understand the principles of the shotgun, they can shoot it accurately.

Q22   Dr Huppert: Mr Coles, I am sure that they could hit the person they are trying to hit—that is not my concern. My concern is: would they be using this appropriately? Because they would have had no experience with something that gives a 20-second continuous shock. They would have no idea what the impact of that was, how lethal it might be or how much of a deterrent it might be.

Kevin Coles: It's certainly not lethal. They've used it operationally elsewhere in the world. It's been six years in development.

Q23   Dr Huppert: But people weren't trained.

Kevin Coles: They would all have had training with shotguns and the technology, and my understanding from my business partner was that he did run the instructors through some slides, explained all the equipment, what its capabilities were and how it worked. Officers from Northumbria Police had been to a conference in America about 18 months prior and had witnessed the presentations and the training. Although they weren't involved in the firearms section, they were well aware of the capabilities of the system.

Q24   Alun Michael: Sorry, I was thinking about that answer. Can you run us through the procurement situation as it stands at the moment? What is the system?

Kevin Coles: Prior to us being in a state where we can no longer import equipment from America, the system would be that we would have an e-mail or a letter come through the post for Tasers or cartridges to be delivered to the armoury, whichever police headquarters that might be.

Q25   Alun Michael: Can you go into a bit more depth? One of the issues here is that it is up to police authorities, or chief constables, what they authorise to use within the requirements of seeking to protect the public and all the rest of it. But there is an authorisation of specific technologies. How do you differentiate between those when you receive the sort of orders that you've described?

Kevin Coles: These two orders were obviously unique. In the past, the equipment has been the M26 in the first instance, starting back in about 2002 or 2003—or 2001, in the case of what was then PSDB. Also, incidentally, Lincolnshire Police were very early to support this type of technology.

Q26   Alun Michael: So, with the exception of these two orders, they were always of equipment that was authorised under the regulatory process?

Kevin Coles: For an M26 and X26, yes. In the early days, forces took on the equipment to evaluate, not for operation. They would be an evaluating force. There were about five forces. HOSDB—it was then PSDB—took it on as a project and then what they would do, historically, was to run handling trials, and obviously the medical and scientific trials at PSDB or HOSDB. It would then go out for very limited operational trials within a restricted number of forces. So I believe they've been looking at the technology in various forms now for nine years.

Q27   Alun Michael: In that sense, in advance of specific—what are described as less-lethal—weaponry being authorised through the regulations, there would have been that process of them being purchased and used by police forces within that.

Kevin Coles: Yes. Certainly I believe we had orders from, as I say, five: West Yorkshire Police, Northants Police. Actually, with Northants Police, I believe that their chief constable had got some Tasers in about 1999. They were looking at them as a concept. In the early days, there were about five forces involved and then it grew from there over time. But forces could certainly look at new technologies, and we were permitted to because our authority was open on Taser devices. They were the forces we dealt with.

Q28   Alun Michael: If there was an order for an item that wasn't authorised—that had not been through that whole process—would that be a matter for you as the supplier, or a matter for the police who were ordering the item?

Kevin Coles: We wouldn't have been able to bring them into the country if it wasn't authorised at some level by somebody. You can't just bring in technology and, because our section 5 authority is Tasers, we sometimes have to get some clarification to bring new Taser devices in. It's more to do with import licensing, because they can look very different but they are still a Taser. In the past, we've had some clarification on whether it okay for us to bring in—

Q29   Alun Michael: From?

Kevin Coles: Normally from the Home Office, or it might be that HOSDB want to look at something because it's a clarification thing. We always felt that we could bring them in on our licences—on our section 5 authority—but they do look very different, although in essence they are all Tasers.

Q30   Mark Reckless: I had a concern over reports that a bidding war among police forces was set off by the removal of your licence. I just wonder if I could clarify—particularly in September—the sequence of events and whether there was a period when your supply was exhausted but you still had a licence and, if so, whether you brought anything in in that period?

Kevin Coles: In truth, it probably came more to light in August. You need to apply for a new section 5 authority probably four weeks—possibly six weeks—in advance. Your registered firearms dealership is something you need to have in place first, because that expires at the same time. Historically, what you do is you apply for a new registered firearms dealership and they do all the inspections on security, and then you apply for your section 5 once that's in order. As I say, we had this where it was due for renewal on 9 September. Obviously the events of July did make things a little difficult, because it caused a few delays, so we didn't have an authority in place for us to bring in a lot of equipment from America.

Had we lost our authority in September, we could have been sitting on a lot of stock, so we had allowed our stock to run down. We did have orders coming in. We filled orders on first come, first served. Some forces, if they're small forces, buy almost a year's supply; others tend to stagger it. Certainly our impression was that the stock was going fairly swiftly. We did apply for another import licence, which we didn't manage to get through, because it corresponded with us getting a one-month extension that only really spanned 20 days. It's impractical to use an import licence to bring stuff in from America, and to distribute the equipment potentially before you've lost your authority. You're talking about pretty catastrophic financial losses if you bring a lot of stuff in and you cannot distribute it.

As it happened, they wouldn't grant us an import licence without checking with the Home Office, and we didn't get an import licence anyway, so when we ran out of stock, we couldn't use our short-term section 5 authority to import any more equipment. With the three-month one that we have to dispose of stock, we only have Tasers themselves in stock. We don't have ammunition or cartridges, and that's what everybody seems to need. So, potentially, we couldn't supply from the end of August through to the end of December but for Taser International finding another distributor and the Home Office evaluating them in a pretty timely manner to get them in place.

Q31   Chair: Let us be clear on this: are there police forces at the moment that have the Tasers but do not have the cartridges?

Kevin Coles: They will have some. Certainly they have to look at their training programmes and we've been led to believe that—

Q32   Chair: Forget about training. The question was: are there some police forces that have the Tasers but do not have the cartridges?

Kevin Coles: I don't believe so, but with the people you have here today, I'm sure they are better placed to know what the situation is.

Q33   Chair: But you have no cartridges left in stock on your shelves?

Kevin Coles: No, we haven't had for a number of weeks.

Q34   Chair: What is going to happen on 31 December? Will you have any Tasers left?

Kevin Coles: They'll either be surrendered to Northamptonshire Police, or it might be that they're allowed to be transferred to the new distributor. That's yet to be decided, but certainly—

Q35   Chair: Who will decide that?

Kevin Coles: The Home Office.

Q36   Chair: How many do you have in stock? Are these your Tasers? Have you paid for them?

Kevin Coles: Yes.

Q37   Chair: So why should the Home Office decide what happens to them?

Kevin Coles: My understanding is—

Q38   Chair: You will sell them to the Home Office, will you, not give them to them?

Kevin Coles: No. Well, I would hope so. I have 272 in stock.

Q39   Chair: You have 272 Tasers at the moment?

Kevin Coles: I have.

Q40   Chair: So it is like a bargain sale to police authorities: you can sell by 31 December; two for the price of one?

Kevin Coles: We have looked at that possibility but, at the moment, because it's the cartridges that they are most in need of, certainly the sales of Tasers themselves have somewhat dried up.

Q41   Chair: But at the end of the period, when your contract finishes, say you have 200 left, you will sell those to the Home Office?

Kevin Coles: I need to have the authority—instead of transferring to a police force—to transfer to the new distributor because then, obviously, that would save them from being crushed or whatever they are going to do with them?

Q42   Chair: They crush them if they can't use them?

Kevin Coles: Some do. Whatever their policy is on destroying firearms, I would imagine.

Q43   Dr Huppert: I am still astonished by some of the responses that we have had through the session. You seem to have a remarkably cavalier attitude to the details of your trade. We have heard the term "Taser" might be general or might be specific. You were not quite clear about that. We have heard that you were not that clear on some of the rules that applied. You thought things were allowed, but possibly they were not. There was some article 2 thing—we're not quite sure what it was about—and that was the reason for an early morning delivery. Do you agree with me that this doesn't seem very professional? Have Taser International made any comments? Would this be the standard that we would expect to find of another firearms supplier?

Kevin Coles: In truth, my business partner would have been here today. He was our expert. I was more on the financial and business side, and he would have been able to answer your questions fully, I'm sure. So I apologise if I've appeared woolly or that I don't quite know where you want me to focus on in my answers. But I am convinced—and also my legal representation looking at our authority—that our Taser authority was generic. We have a letter from Taser International saying the word "Taser" is generic and covers all the devices that they produce.

Q44   Chair: How do you feel your company has been treated?

Kevin Coles: Well, it has been a very, very difficult time. I have to accept that the transfer of the goods to Northumbria delivery was in breach of how we were supposed to deliver with two people. But, other than that, I have to say we felt as if we've been treated pretty shabbily. But the authority is drafted in such a way that at any time the Secretary of State can remove that authority if you are in breach. We are in breach. I suppose you do think that maybe it's been a bit of a sledgehammer to crack a nut, but we are where we are and we have to accept that.

Q45   Chair: How many former police officers work for you company? You are not yourself a police officer?

Kevin Coles: No, no, never been a police officer.

Q46   Chair: Was your partner a—

Kevin Coles: He was a police officer for 32 years.

Q47   Chair: Which force?

Kevin Coles: With Northamptonshire. He held the Queen's Police Medal and many bravery awards. He was a recognised use-of-force expert, and he travelled around the world lecturing and training on various aspects. As I say, he would have been uniquely placed to sit here before you and I can only apologise for not being able fill his shoes very well.

Chair: We understand, but we are very grateful to you. The Committee is very grateful to you for your time. Thank you for coming here and for your memorandum. It has been very helpful. Thank you very much.

Kevin Coles: Thank you.

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