Police use of Tasers - Home Affairs Committee Contents


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 115-202)

CHRISTIAN PAPALEONTIOU, GRAHAM WIDDECOMBE AND GRAHAM SMITH

7 DECEMBER 2010

Q115   Chair: Mr Papaleontiou, apologies first of all to you for my mispronounciation of your name. Perhaps you can give me—

Christian Papaleontiou: It was a good effort. Christian Papaleontiou.

Chair: Papaleontiou, excellent. I think we're familiar with Widdecombe and Smith from Strictly Come Dancing.

You've heard the evidence so far. Obviously there are policy issues that are for politicians and not for yourselves, but as I and members ask questions, if any of you want to chip in—we won't direct them specifically at any of you—please feel free to do so. Apart from Dr Huppert, who has just left the room, I think none of us claim to be experts in science, so you have us at the start. You may have to explain, in precisely more detail, exactly what you mean.

  Let me start by asking about the testing that goes on on these weapons, especially in view of some of the questions we've asked about what has happened in France and Australia and elsewhere. What kind of testing is involved in this area of science?

Graham Smith: HOSDB work closely with the police. Any testing we do obviously needs to result in something that the police use. So the first step that we take is to establish what the operational requirement is—what the police want any piece of equipment to do. Then the first step in the process that we look around in the marketplace at what is out there, and find and identify items that may meet that requirement. Then we start doing some physical testing, looking at the various aspects of the requirement—first of all, the easiest ones to do, obviously—to see whether that piece of equipment meets the requirement. One of the things with less-lethal, for instance, is accuracy. If it's not accurate, first of all, it's not going to hit the target and do what you want; and, secondly, you don't necessarily know what the medical effects may be because it may hit a part of the body that you're not aiming at. So accuracy is paramount.

Following the physical testing, a medical assessment will take place. Medical assessment looks at any operational uses around the world and any other studies that have been done around the world. That is then assessed by an independent team of clinicians who sit under the Defence Scientific Advisory Council. They will then identify whether there is enough information to comment on the medical implications of the use of the particular technology. If there isn't, they may recommend work to be done.

  In parallel with the work we do on assessing the basic characteristics of particular weapons, the police will also be putting together guidelines for use. So, if something looks promising, we would need to know how the police intend to use it. That's a little bit of a chicken and egg thing. They need to know how the weapon works before they put the guidelines together, but the guidelines are also very important in the medical assessment, because if the medics don't know how the piece of equipment is going to be used they can't necessarily comment on the medical implications. So they go hand in hand.

Q116   Chair: Yes. We will come and explore some of that. We mentioned a number of cases: Mr Winnick mentioned the Amnesty International study and I mentioned the case of the gentleman from Mali who was shot in France and died. Are you familiar with this case?

Graham Smith: Yes.

Chair: So, you would get to know about this pretty soon? When you hear the word "Taser", there will be a Google alert across your screen?

Graham Smith: There is a Google alert on my machine and also, because HOSDB doesn't have medical expertise, we work very closely with the DSTL—Defence Science and Technology Laboratories. They also do a constant screening of cases around the world.

Q117   Chair: So to follow a practical example for the non-scientists—as I said, Dr Huppert is our resident scientist—you would hear about this. The BBC would report, "Use of Taser, Man Dies"; Google alert on your screen. Would you then check whether it's the same Taser? Was it the same Taser as the Tasers we use in this country?

Graham Smith: I'm not sure yet. I have a colleague who is in Paris at the moment, so I've asked him to find out all he can about the case. Obviously the press reporting isn't as detailed as we could perhaps get from our contacts in other police forces. We try and find out as much information as we can. That information is then passed to DSTL to collate. If they feel it's important enough, they will immediately flag it to the DOMILL committee, which could then put together some quick advice that could then be fed into the police guidelines quite quickly, to answer the question you were asking Mr Chesterman.

Q118   Chair: We don't have 43 police forces with 43 different types of Taser? There is only one Taser in use in the UK?

Graham Smith: There is only one Taser; there is only one cartridge. The specification of that Taser and cartridge is also carefully controlled to ensure that if any changes are made, we know what the implications of those changes are.

Q119   Chair: Yes. You said you go to the market, but you don't turn up in some market in North Africa or somewhere like that. You go on to the internet and you buy your Tasers, do you? When you say "the market", what do you mean by "the market"? Is there a kind of convention?

Mr Winnick: Marks and Spencer?

Chair: Where do you buy them from?

Graham Smith: When we first looked at electrical incapacitants, which were fast-tracked against the ACPO operational requirement in 2001, we did a trawl of all the companies around the world that were selling electrical incapacitation devices, of which Taser International was one—at that time there were three others. So that is how we found possible contenders for the ACPO operational requirement. We do a search of the internet, a search of the marketplace. Also, through out contacts through conferences in other countries, we know what other countries are using. Often what other countries are using will inform us from a medical and an operational effectiveness perspective as well.

Q120   Chair: So you would have signed off the original authorisation for Pro-Tect?

Graham Smith: No.

Q121   Chair: You would have nothing to do with choosing the company?

Graham Smith: No. All HOSDB does is purchase equipment for assessment. We don't grant licences.

Q122   Chair: You have nothing to do with that?

Graham Smith: No.

Q123   Alun Michael: I'm aware of the interplay between police and their requirements, and ACPO and the authorisation. In fact, the first engagement I had with this was with an over-enthusiastic effort in the Superintendents Association to promote pepper spray, which led to a bit of a PR disaster and put back the use of less injurious ways of controlling situations. Can you outline for us the way in which you communicate, and the respective responsibilities of the Home Office, ACPO and individual police forces?

Graham Smith: From HOSDB's perspective, we sit on a number of different ACPO committees who look after public order, armed policing, or self-defence, arrest and restraint, which is more routine patrol officers. They have a number of committees that sit underneath those and, through that network, an operational requirement is put together. So it's the best way we have of finding out what a national requirement for a piece of equipment would be. For instance, that was done with incapacitant sprays, and we formed a requirement from that through the SDAR committee. Because routine patrol officers were the ones who were predominantly using that, they knew what they wanted it to do. So that is how we get the requirements through the police.

  We also have day-to-day contact with police directly if they have problems with any equipment, so they will ring us up if a Taser is not working or if there's a problem with an incapacitant spray and we will try and work out what that problem is—whether it's a systemic thing that we need to solve across the whole of the equipment.

Q124   Alun Michael: So the police requirements and any complications are fed through to you. What is the responsibility then, as between the Home Office and ACPO, in saying what is authorised and what guidance there is on its use?

Christian Papaleontiou: If I could come in there. Graham obviously leads on the scientific element and technical analysis. In the policing directorate, we will then provide a policy overlay on top of the technical assessment. As Mr Chesterman set out, the process for the approval of less-lethal weapons is set out in the Home Office code of practice on the police use of firearms and less-lethal weapons. The Home Office code of practice has a statutory basis, which is in the Police Reform Act 2002, and chief officers must have regard to the code of practice. So, at the moment, the level that the Home Office sets is that we have a regulatory role in terms of setting that standard.

Q125   Alun Michael: I understand all that, but when it comes to individual police officers within the jurisdiction of an individual chief constable knowing what is allowed and what isn't, reading all the detailed information isn't very helpful. So what I'm trying to get to is where the decision lies in terms of the authorisation of use of a particular piece of kit, because the evaluation has already been done, and the code of practice in terms of how it is used in practice on the ground?

Christian Papaleontiou: In terms of that process, the Home Office will go through the approval process. It is then communicated through ACPO to forces and then, within a force, it will be up to the local chief officer to ensure that the force and the officers within that force understand which weapons are approved by the Home Secretary according to that code of practice.

Q126   Steve McCabe: I wanted to ask Mr Smith a question. You said in response to the Chair that you had nothing to do with the contract with Pro-Tect. Who did authorise that contract? How did they come into the game?

Christian Papaleontiou: Can I explain the procurement process?

Chair: Yes, please.

Christian Papaleontiou: The procurement process, as Graham said, the scientific development—

Chair: For the record, it's Mr Widdecombe or Mr Smith. There are two Grahams. I know Mr Widdecombe hasn't spoken but, for the record, we need to know which one.

Christian Papaleontiou: Mr Smith will be involved in the technical assessment. Taser is identified as meeting the ACPO operational requirement. Taser is manufactured by Taser International. They are the sole manufacturers of Taser.

Q127   Chair: In the world?

Christian Papaleontiou: In the world. There is only one manufacturer. It is then a commercial decision for Taser International who it chooses to sell its products to in any given country. Whoever it chooses to sell those products to in any given country will need a section 5 authority from the Home Office.

Q128   Chair: Just stopping you there, for the unenlightened in this procurement process: they would have decided on Pro-Tect and then Pro-Tect comes to the Home Office. Then what happens?

Christian Papaleontiou: Then the Home Office will see if they are a fit and proper company to own a section 5 authority to provide Tasers to the police.

Q129   Chair: The Home Office is a very big organisation. Who in the Home Office—I think this is what Mr McCabe wants to know? If it's not the three of you who know about Tasers, who is it? Oh, it's Mr Widdecombe. You're the one who authorised it. You've been sitting very quietly.

Graham Widdecombe: We lie at the end of the process, in so far as because these are prohibited weapons, they do require a section 5 authority from the Secretary of State and so, therefore, we come at that part of the process. It just so happens I'm in the same unit as Christian so therefore we're able to talk about and discuss the policy issues.

Q130   Chair: Excellent. So it was you; you signed this off?

Graham Widdecombe: We signed off the section 5 authority.

Q131   Chair: When you say "we", who do you mean?

Graham Widdecombe: The Home Secretary—the Home Office—issues the section 5 authority, which is a requirement.

Q132   Chair: On your advice?

Graham Widdecombe: Indeed. On the basis that what we look at is that there is an established business need and—as Christian was saying—that the individuals concerned are of good character. We look very closely at the security and the transportation, but the actual contract lies between Pro-Tect and Taser International.

Q133   Chair: Just to get this right so it is clear to the Committee: Mr Smith does the technical stuff. You don't buy this equipment at all. It's bought by Pro-Tect from Taser International on a commercial basis. It then ends up with you and you write a report for the Home Secretary saying, "This is a great company" or "This is a bad company", and then the decision is made by a collection of individuals.

Graham Widdecombe: But we're not the end user. The end user is the police. They're the people—

Q134   Chair: Yes, but they need a certificate from you, don't they? If they don't get a section 5 certificate, they can't supply to the police. Is that right?

Graham Widdecombe: The police can buy them. The police do not need a section 5 authority. By virtue of the Firearms Act, they're deemed to be Crown servants.

Q135   Chair: So what is the point of getting a section 5 authority?

Graham Widdecombe: That's for the supply. That's for the importation and the supply of the Tasers themselves. We then make it quite clear who Pro-Tect can supply those Tasers to, and we say that is for the purposes of supplying it to the police force and whomsoever may also have established a need for it.

Q136   Chair: So, once you sign this off and you say that they're okay, does an individual police force—like Kent, for example—have to come to you and say, "By the way we're thinking of doing this," or can they wave their certificate and say, "We have a certificate; you can buy from us"?

Graham Widdecombe: Yes, Pro-Tect would wave their certificate and they would say, "We are able to supply." Provided it's in accordance with the conditions of their section 5 authority, they can provide that to police forces, indeed.

Q137   Chair: What Mr McCabe wants to know is: can they buy from anyone else without a section 5 certificate?

Graham Widdecombe: No.

Q138   Chair: So the section 5 certificate is kind of an imprint of approval—"You can buy from this guy"?

Graham Widdecombe: Yes.

Q139   Chair: So you signed off authorisation for the 43 police forces?

Graham Widdecombe: We said that this company has an evidenced need to possess these and to import them and, yes, they can then supply those to those people who are listed on their authority.

Chair: Mr McCabe is looking very contorted, so I'm going to allow him to probe you even further on this.

Q140   Steve McCabe: It seems a very convoluted process to me. The bottom line is that are a monopoly supplier. You license them and the police forces have to buy from them because they're the only people they can buy from. That's it in a nutshell, isn't it?

Graham Widdecombe: Yes.

Q141   Chair: When you decided to suspend this licence, as the Home Secretary did, this was on your advice, was it?

Graham Widdecombe: This was following inquiries where we approached the company, set out the situation as we understood it, and said that we thought that was a breach of their authority. They were then able to respond with their views on it, which we considered and then warned them that we were thinking of revocation.

Chair: Members may come back to this.

Q142   Mr Winnick: We heard from previous witnesses from the police—senior police of course—that Tasers should be used, and are used, only in extreme circumstances. We're agreed on that, are we, the three of you?

Chair: Could we have order on the Committee? We didn't hear Mr Winnick's question because Members were chatting.

Mr Winnick: You are agreed, the three of you, that they are only to be used in extreme circumstances by the police?

Christian Papaleontiou: We agree that Taser should be used only in line with ACPO guidance, which is very clear that Tasers should only be used where there is a severe threat of violence to an officer, the public or the person himself.

Q143   Mr Winnick: So it would be—the words that I used—in extreme circumstances, yes?

Christian Papaleontiou: Yes.

Q144   Mr Winnick: Therefore, are you of the view—that is the Home Office, your section, and presumably the Home Secretary—that Tasers should not be used in policing demonstrations?

Christian Papaleontiou: We again support the ACPO guidance, which is very clear that Tasers should not be used in terms of a crowd control measure in public order scenarios.

Q145   Mr Winnick: Probing you a little more, really a yes or no is required, if I may say so. In demonstrations, be it what is taking place now or particularly on Thursday by students, and what might happen in the near future, is it the view—I want to be absolutely clear on this, in so far as you can be absolutely clear in giving an answer—that Tasers should be not used by the police in policing these demonstrations?

Christian Papaleontiou: Tasers should not be used by the police in policing demonstrations.

Q146   Chair: I think Mr Winnick wants a yes or no. Is that a yes?

Christian Papaleontiou: Yes.

Q147   Mark Reckless: I can't quite remember which witness said which comments—I hope you'll forgive me for that—but we have heard from you, at least collective, that the Home Office code of practice has a statutory basis and Parliament has required that. But then, in other answers, we've been told that it is ACPO that is assessing the policy and issuing the guidance on it. I'm concerned by that.

Christian Papaleontiou: Again, just to be clear, what the Home Office code of practice tries to do is get an appropriate balance between allowing the police experts the operational discretion to use police weaponry as they feel is proportionate and necessary, and also providing some national oversight, in terms of the safety of those weapons and the medical testing behind those weapons, to help them to inform those operational decision makers.

Q148   Mark Reckless: But surely if Parliament is delegating to the Home Office a power to produce a code of practice in this area, isn't it ultra vires for the Home Office then to delegate this to ACPO?

Christian Papaleontiou: No, the Home Office code of practice is guidance that chief officers must have regard to, not must comply with—there is a key distinction there. So these are the principles that are set out in the Home Office code of practice, which gives force to greater detailed guidance from ACPO.

Q149   Mark Reckless: So it's the Home Office code of practice and not the ACPO guidance that chief constables must have regard to?

Christian Papaleontiou: Yes.

Q150   Dr Huppert: Can I come back to information we've had from ACPO as well—they seem to come up rather often—about chest shots. As I mentioned earlier—I think you were in the room—Taser International have advised that you should avoid chest shots. We have heard they are the monopoly supplier in the whole world of these things, so one can assume they possibly know what they're talking about in this. But ACPO, presumably taking advice from DOMILL, decided that that wasn't relevant. Were you all consulted about this? Do you have an opinion on whether ACPO knows better than Taser International on the safety risks?

Graham Smith: The question was posed following Taser International's announcement of that slight change in guidelines. The training that is carried on in the UK isn't purely "aim centre chest and fire". There are all sorts of other caveats, and DOMILL were given a full brief on what the UK training is. They were also obviously aware of the evidence behind the announcement made by Taser International. They didn't consider that changing the point of aim would increase the safety, given the evidence that they were shown, but they are producing a sixth statement shortly—they have five statements at the moment—that will incorporate a number of different factors that they've been looking at over the past two years, which will update the guidance.[2]

Q151   Dr Huppert: I'm sure we'll look forward to seeing that. Could I also just take you on to the idea of training. We heard in the earlier session about the X12 shotgun Taser being used on sort of early morning, "quick glance at it" type training. Are you comfortable that that is an appropriate level of training? Do you think police officers acted reasonably by using weapons that they had never been formally trained on?

Graham Smith: I don't know what the training was. I can explain to you how that particular piece of equipment works, but as to what training would be involved in that case, I'm not sure.

Q152   Dr Huppert: We heard earlier that the Northumbria police force—I think—were given some X12 shotguns as an emergency operation because they needed to be used immediately. Does that bring any concerns for you?

Graham Smith: For the Taser X26 and the M26—its predecessor—the training and guidelines were put together very carefully prior to its introduction and were reviewed, along with the technical information, by DOMILL, which enabled them to give a considered statement. I'm not sure that was the case in this.

Christian Papaleontiou: Can I just come in on that point? The whole reason why we have the system in place to approve less-lethal weapons is to try and minimise the risks of any improper use. That is why we have very robust levels of training and robust guidance, and why that informs, in turn, medical statements that then give us the confidence in that weapon. Clearly that process did not happen in terms of the Northumbria incident, but we should say that the IPCC are looking at it and the IPCC will follow the investigative trail. We really can't comment on the particulars of that case until the IPCC have commented.

Q153   Mr Burley: I heard what you were saying, and ACPO said the same, that Tasers should be used only in extreme cases—when officers are facing extreme violence. I'm just looking at the form they have to fill out after they've used a Taser. In box number 3 it says, "The reason for Taser use. The prime tactical purpose" and they have some tick-box options. Two of the tick-box options for the prime use of a Taser are: to remove handcuffs and to secure evidence. Does it surprise you that those are two options for the prime use of Taser—given we've heard ACPO say that it should only be used in extreme lethal conditions—and that removing handcuffs should even be an option?

Graham Smith: As I say, from a technical perspective, I'm not sure. Perhaps I could look back at the data and see how many times those options were ticked and given as the prime tactical purpose, and report back for you.

Q154   Mr Burley: It seems quite surprising they are in there. My main question was coming to the X12 Taser, which I understand you've purchased. There is a Wayne State University study into it.

Graham Smith: That's right, yes.

Q155   Mr Burley: Are you waiting for the outcome of that study before you make a decision on its safety issues here?

Graham Smith: That would feed into a decision; that wouldn't be the whole of the information that we would need. The study has been ongoing for some time. Perhaps if I show you the round and explain what we've been doing.

The XREP has been on the drawing board, so to speak, for a number of years and the first iteration of it was launched in late 2007. We commissioned Wayne State University to start looking at the round in early 2008. It was done at Wayne State University, which is in Detroit, as part of a tripartite agreement between the Americans, Canadians and us to save money, because we have the same requirement. This is in fact the round that was assessed at that time. I'll pass it round in a minute, but please be careful of all the spikes on it.

It is fired from a shotgun, so this is a shotgun shell. The X12 is just a special type of shotgun. There's nothing peculiar about it, apart from the fact that it will only fire this round, so you can't mistakenly put another round inside it and fire it. The second special element of it is that it has a rifled barrel that is intended to spin the round and increase its accuracy—a spinning round will be more accurate. This is a round itself, so when it comes out of the shotgun it obviously travels towards the target. These fins on the back will also give it some spin stabilisation as well, because Taser International envisage that you could fire it from another shotgun if the police force in question didn't—or couldn't—afford an X12 or whatever. They are looking to the American market as well as the UK market.

Q156   Mr Burley: How much is an X12?

Graham Smith: It's about £700.

So the concept of operation is this would hit the target. At the front here you have four probes that are very similar to Taser barbs. You say you've seen Taser before. So those would lodge into the target. Between this nose cone and the body, there's a breakable connecting piece that, on the kinetic impact, would break apart and what would then happen is the round would drop down, like so, and you have this part attached to the person and this part dropping down. That is a very important element. If you're aware of the way Taser works, you'll know that the two probes need to be a certain distance apart to get a physical incapacitation effect. If they're too close or if it's a drive stun, for instance, you just get a painful effect and it won't stop people moving, which is the real utility behind that device.

  So, although the four probes on the front here do have a circuit between them and they will put a current into a person, it will only be a painful experience—it won't incapacitate. What needs to happen is for a secondary connection to be made at least 200 millimetres apart. So with this thing dangling down—you'll see when I pass it round—there are some further probes at the bottom here, which are intended to go through the clothing and into the skin and form that secondary connection. Alternatively, the person can grab the back of this where there are further probes, grab the wire or grab the bottom, and form a connection through the arm.

  Another important difference between this and the X26 is that this uses a very much lower voltage. It uses 500 volts, whereas the X26 uses 50,000 volts. The reason that they use that very high voltage in the X26 is so that it can then jump a spark gap. So if the probe doesn't hit the skin, if it just lodges in the clothing, the device will still work—it will ionise the air and it will jump that gap. Because of the power requirements to do that, this device can't do it, so therefore it must attach to the skin for it to work. It won't jump any gap; it won't have any sparking effect.

Q157   Mr Burley: Does that make it safer, because it's a lower voltage?

Graham Smith: Not necessarily, no. It really depends on the waveform itself. The voltage is there to ionise the air.

Q158   Chair: If that was fired at someone who had in their possession a gun that was being pointed at police, would that result in any involuntary reaction?

Graham Smith: It could result in an involuntary action, and it could also not produce an effect and the person could still voluntarily fire the weapon with this particular waveform. That was part of the assessment that was done by Taser International themselves.

Q159   Bridget Phillipson: Are you carrying out your own testing at the moment on the X12 Taser?

Graham Smith: No. It's all contracted to Wayne State University.

Q160   Dr Huppert: When using the X12 you're firing from a significantly greater distance, presumably.

Graham Smith: Yes.

Q161   Dr Huppert: As I understand it, part of the training of officers who use Tasers is to deal with what I think are called "special population groups"—people who are deaf or whose first language may not be English—in order to have different interactions. We heard from the Chair earlier about people with mental health conditions. Does the increased distance make it harder for officers to recognise these features?

Graham Smith: It might do. I don't really know about the operational details of how they would be used, but obviously that would be a matter for the guidance to cover.

Q162   Dr Huppert: But isn't the purpose of this shotgun-based thing that you can fire it from a lot further away, which means you must know less about what you're doing?

Graham Smith: The reasoning beyond this device is to provide the same effect as the Taser X26, but at distances beyond the six or so metres that you can get with the X26. So the idea is that this would go out to 20 metres, although we found some problems with that in the testing that we did on the original round.

Christian Papaleontiou: The point that you make is a good one. Again, going through the process, what would need to happen if it did get to the stage where it was going to be approved is that the approval process would have to take into account the medical implications, and the medical panel would take into account, for example, the fact that you are at a greater distance and the difficulties inherent in that in terms of its operational use. That, in turn, would need to be reflected in ACPO guidance and ACPO guidelines in order to make a proper assessment of its medical limitations or benefits.

Q163   Dr Huppert: Am I right in understanding that—I think it's from the Taser International site—it autonomously generates neuromuscular incapacitation for 20 continuous seconds? So it's quite a long period of effect, whereas I think for the regular Tasers it's only while actually activated by the officer.

Graham Smith: With the normal Taser, if you pull the trigger and let go of it, it will spark for five seconds. The officer can interrupt that at any time by turning the safety of the device off. If you keep your finger on the trigger it will carry on until the trigger is released. So that's the control on the X26. Obviously with this you don't have immediate control, so what the company have done is provided the battery inside will run for up to a minute, but they are pre-selected to fire for 20 or 30 seconds. But it can be tuned. So if you were to order a special batch of these for 10 seconds, or whatever, you could do that. You could tune the components inside. I understand a future development is to make it controllable by a remote control device so you could control it remotely.

Q164   Steve McCabe: The Taser Shockwave, as I understand it, is a weapon specifically designed to help disperse crowds. You have one—the Home Office Scientific and Development Branch have one—but you've said you don't intend that it should be used for its original purpose. What purpose are you going to recommend it is used for?

Graham Smith: As you say, the Shockwave is a device that is fired remotely and can control a number of different cartridges. We don't have that device any more; we gave it back to the company. But what we were interested in was using the control mechanisms inside it for another project that we have—not for firing multiple Taser cartridges, but utilising it for a different purpose. I can go into that in more detail outside of meeting but it's a classified project.

Q165   Steve McCabe: But there's no intention for you to recommend that the Taser Shockwave be used by the police in this country?

Graham Smith: No. The Shockwave itself was not what we were looking at. It was the controlling electronics that were used within that device.

Q166   Bridget Phillipson: Have you received an application for the granting of authority to sell Tasers? Currently no one has yet.

Graham Widdecombe: Yes, and in fact in the past few days we've granted an authority to another company to do just that. We did receive a number of expressions of interest but, as I say, it's not our role to develop those and we put them in touch with Taser International to see if they could first off establish a commercial relationship. As I say, we received the one application and that has now been granted.

Q167   Bridget Phillipson: You'll be aware that some police authorities have reported difficulties in procurement. Now that that's happening and under way, do you anticipate that these problems will be alleviated?

Christian Papaleontiou: Yes.

Q168   Chair: In answer to Ms Phillipson, are you saying that there will be no shortage of Tasers and there will be no shortage of cartridges?

Christian Papaleontiou: The company has now been granted a section 5 authority.

Q169   Chair: Yes. Sorry, I will come to the company in a minute. Can somebody answer my question?

Christian Papaleontiou: Just to explain the process very quickly: the company now needs to get an export licence.

Q170   Chair: Sorry, I don't want to know the process. I will come to that in a second. Will there be a shortage? What Ms Phillipson said was: will there be a shortage of either Tasers or cartridges in the short term, the medium term or the long term? It is a yes or no, I'm afraid.

Christian Papaleontiou: No.

Q171   Chair: Now you can tell us about the process.

Christian Papaleontiou: The process is that Taser International will now have to get an export licence, which they are confident that they will get in a matter of days.

Q172   Chair: From whom do they get that licence?

Christian Papaleontiou: From the appropriate Government Department in the United States.

Q173   Chair: You mean the business Department of the Government?

Christian Papaleontiou: Yes, of the US.

Q174   Chair: Mr McCabe's questions: surely, as they have been supplying these guns and ammunition for the last few years, they must have such a licence?

Christian Papaleontiou: The export licence will be specific to the new company that they're supplying.

Q175   Chair: What is the name of the new company?

Christian Papaleontiou: TSR—Tactical Safety Responses.

Q176   Chair: What kind of research have you done into this company? In view of the controversy that has occurred, has anyone looked at this company? How many former police officers are employed; do they have the technical capacity to deal with this issue? Has somebody looked at this company?

Graham Widdecombe: Yes, indeed and that's what we have been doing.

Q177   Chair: You have, Mr Widdecombe?

Graham Widdecombe: My section has been in touch with the Northampton police, which is where this company is based. We've been in touch with the company itself. We've asked for assurances from them as to what new procedures would be put in place. We've sought evidence from them as to a continuing business model. So, yes, we've looked very—

Q178   Chair: How long has the company been in existence?

Graham Widdecombe: This is a newly formed company.

Chair: A newly formed company?

Graham Widdecombe: It's a newly formed company, yes.

Q179   Mr Winnick: Would it be possible, Chair, to have documentation sent to us about this company and its background?

Chair: I think Mr Winnick makes a very good point. The concern of this Committee is that in view of what has happened so far, it would be very good to have documentation about this company sent to the Committee. But also the concern that I have is that an awful lot seems to revolve around Northamptonshire.

Graham Widdecombe: That's purely because that's where they are based.

Q180   Chair: But also they did the so-called independent inquiry into Pro-Tect, did they not? Wasn't it a Northamptonshire inquiry into Pro-Tect?

Graham Widdecombe: Yes, indeed, because Pro-Tect were also based in Northampton.

Q181   Chair: Are any of the former employees of Pro-Tect involved in this company?

Graham Widdecombe: They are, yes, and that's something we looked at very carefully to establish whether this was a new company or not, and to get assurances from them that the new arrangements were such as to avoid any sort of similar situations.

Q182   Chair: Let me just take this slowly. The Home Office withdraws authorisation to a company called Pro-Tect. It then gives authorisation to another company based in the same area that is, in effect, using references from the same police authority that did the inquiry into the company that is no longer authorised, with some of the same employees of the previous company that has been struck off authorisation?

Graham Widdecombe: Yes, but we made it quite clear—

Q183   Chair: Yes? And you think that's satisfactory?

Graham Widdecombe: It is something we had to look into very carefully and, as I say, it's not something we did lightly. The fact that Northampton is the same police service is just one of those areas—I think that's where they were based. We did seek assurances that the principals of Pro-Tect wouldn't be involved in any way in the setting up of the new company, that there were procedures in place and that the lessons had been learned. As I say, we're adding additional conditions to their section 5 authority to ensure that one person acting alone cannot do something similar.

Q184   Steve McCabe: Mr Widdecombe, you said earlier that there had been expressions from a number of companies, so presumably they weren't all from Northampton. Some of the others would have been from other parts of the country without any connection to Pro-Tect at all.

Graham Widdecombe: Indeed.

Q185   Steve McCabe: Did you consider the idea of a fresh start and a clean slate? Can you understand why someone—maybe more suspicious than me—would think this sounds a wee bit cosy and collusive? Did you consider the possibility that maybe it would have been smarter to go wider?

Graham Widdecombe: That was certainly something we did think very carefully about. Ultimately, we're not the people who appoint. It's for Taser International.

Q186   Steve McCabe: No, but you license. That's why I'm asking this.

Graham Widdecombe: Yes, we license that and they were the only ones coming forward at the moment. We've issued an authority—

Q187   Steve McCabe: Sorry, I don't understand that. You said earlier there were a number of companies. What happened to all the others?

Graham Widdecombe: They had not established a commercial business relationship with Taser International. So we said, "By all means go away and speak to Taser International and if Taser International—"

Q188   Steve McCabe: This is the difficulty I'm having. Taser International are a monopoly supplier. They select a business, who are also a monopoly supplier. The one protection in the system is that you license it so that it's above board and we have some safeguards. The only decision you can come to, after what has happened, is to go back to what sounds like a version of the original company and start again, when you could have said to Taser International, "Look a bit wider." Why didn't that happen?

Chair: I think Mr McCabe's views properly represent the views of all members of the Committee. Who would like to give us an answer?

Christian Papaleontiou: Can I just explain the process? The process is that again it is a commercial decision for Taser International. That is a fact of law. It's a commercial decision for Taser International.

Q189   Chair: We understand the processes. Could Mr Widdecombe, since he is the one who authorises this, answer the question put by Mr McCabe and address the concerns of the Committee that it has gone to a company that is newly formed with some of the same employees of the company that has been basically struck off? Do you understand the concerns of this Committee?

Graham Widdecombe: We do understand the concerns of the Committee. Discussions were held with Taser International, and it was suggested that they might want to look in the longer term more widely.

Q190   Bridget Phillipson: Two points. Surely if you had refused to grant the licence to this successor company, Taser would have to have been in the position to go more broadly, in terms of entering into commercial relationships with other suppliers. So, had the Home Office said, "We're not sure about granting the authority to this new successor company", Taser International, had they wished to continue to supply to the UK, would therefore have to have explored more fully opportunities with other suppliers within the UK.

Christian Papaleontiou: The key point is that, whichever company comes forward, their section 5 authority has to be looked at on the merits of their case. So if a company comes forward saying they need a section 5 authority, the Home Office, legally, has to look at the case of that company, in terms of the public safety risks and the viability risks, and that's the basis on which we look at that company. We also speak with Taser International to explain the process to them, so they understood the section 5 authority process, in terms of selecting a preferred supplier, and we continue to speak to Taser International to make sure that we will be in a position to ensure that there isn't a shortfall of Tasers, should there be a failing in this case. But we have put strict conditions around the licence to ensure that we minimise those risks.

Q191   Bridget Phillipson: It's just the comments that were made earlier seemed to refer to the licence being granted because the other companies that were interested in operating in the UK didn't have that commercial relationship with Taser International. So is it about merit, or is it about having an established commercial relationship?

Graham Widdecombe: It's about both, I think.

Q192   Chair: Mr Widdecombe, isn't the fact of the matter that you suspended this contract and you don't have a supplier by 31 December, and therefore you have to give it to somebody and this is—excuse the pun—a shotgun marriage? This is actually what you're trying to do: get someone in place very quickly without the necessary checks.

Graham Widdecombe: No, I don't think we were being expedient to that extent. We are very jealous about the section 5 authorities we issue, and we did seek to satisfy ourselves that this new company would meet all the necessary criteria, that they had the business model there in place, that they had new procedures in place, that, hopefully, there would be no repetition and that we would—as Christian was saying—put stringent conditions on them. We will be looking very closely at them over the next six months.

Q193   Bridget Phillipson: Without getting into the names and details of individuals, when you say that there is similarity in the employees from the predecessor to this new apparent successor company, are you talking at the director level, senior management level or people who were employed within the previous company?

Graham Widdecombe: These were employees, I think, and they were experts in the field in what they were doing, so they were very knowledgeable about Tasers. They weren't directors as such.

Q194   Chair: How many?

Graham Widdecombe: Two I believe, at the moment.

Q195   Alun Michael: Can we look at it from a different point of view? It's unusual nowadays for us to allow ourselves to be trapped by having only a single supplier. I understand the situation that there is a single manufacturer, but why was there not a requirement for them to supply via more than one supplier within the UK?

Graham Widdecombe: That was not a business model that Taser International—

Alun Michael: It's not a business model that BT particularly wanted to give up when we had local loop unbundling, just to mention one example. It looks as if Taser International are being allowed to choose a business model that allows them to control supply in a way that I think would be most unusual in relation to firearms or any other element of equipment that is supplied.

Graham Widdecombe: Certainly, in relation to my particular take on the section 5 authorities, if another company were to come forward, we would certainly be more than happy to grant them an authority as well. That is why I say we're sort of towards the end of the process.

Q196   Alun Michael: I understand that, Mr Widdecombe. I'm going rather wider than that to general Government and public policy. Clearly your responsibility is to be sure that the particular supplier meets the requirements for security and professionalism. That is understood. But I would have thought that the Government more widely, in terms of policy, would be unhappy with an organisation that insists that it's only going to supply via, effectively, one retailer. I suppose it's a wholesaler but—

Christian Papaleontiou: We are in a position where there is one manufacturer and, again, I should stress that legally it is a commercial decision for them. We can't put conditions on Taser International as an international manufacturer.

Q197   Alun Michael: Can you not? There are many situations where Government policy does make manufacturers supply via a variety of suppliers.

Christian Papaleontiou: Sorry, I'm not aware of those arrangements.

Q198   Chair: As Mr Michael says, you must be able to put in conditions. Surely, if you as scientists believe something, there must be some kind of conditions on the sale of these?

Christian Papaleontiou: There are conditions on the sale to police forces.

Q199   Chair: Just to the police force but not to a manufacturer who wishes to supply to this country?

Christian Papaleontiou: I'm not aware of any conditions that we can put on Taser International in that regard. Can I just come back on one point that you made earlier, Chair, which was the suggestion that we'd acted expediently because the supply of Tasers was getting critical? It's important to emphasise that we did have contingency arrangements in place to ensure that, to meet critical need, we would be able to purchase direct from Taser International themselves on a one-off basis, precisely because we didn't want to be held over a barrel and so that we could make a decision on the merits of the company.

Q200   Alun Michael: Can I stick to the question that I'm asking? I'm quite clear about the appropriate way in which the Home Office departments have dealt with the issue but there's the wider procurement issue of whether it's appropriate for a manufacturer to be allowed to supply only through one intermediary. Surely that gives them a monopoly situation that doesn't fit with normal Government procurement policies, does it? It may be outside the Home Office's requirements, but I wonder whether you could look at that and respond to us?

Graham Widdecombe: I was simply going to say that I think that does go a little bit beyond the Home Office, as such, and is probably more a matter of BIS policy or trading issues.

Chair: It is probably a matter for the Home Secretary. We'll ask her about this, because presumably she can make this decision.

Graham Smith: Just one point on that. From a technical perspective, having a single supplier makes it very much easier for us to track cartridges and to ensure that quality and any changes are immediately followed up on. So we can control one company a lot easier, but that's just a technical perspective.

Alun Michael: If I may, Chair, my point is that there might be a good reason for overriding general policy. I was looking for an assurance that it had been considered within Government, even if it's not just a Home Office issue on its own. I think that's what we would need to probe a little further.

Chair: We should have our final question from a scientist to scientists.

Q201   Dr Huppert: I'm afraid that's not what it was going to be, Chair. How comfortable are you that Tactical Safety Responses—I think that is the name—are in reality a completely different company from Pro-Tect, and that they're not using the same staff, the same approach and the same system, and that there won't be the same problems that we had with Pro-Tect?

Graham Widdecombe: As I say, that is something we did go back to them on. We asked for details of how they were planning to run the organisation and what procedures they have in place. One example, perhaps, is that any safes and security they install should be on a double-keyed basis so that it wouldn't be possible for one individual to act alone.

Q202   Dr Huppert: My concern is more that there seems to be a remarkable similarity between the two companies. To what extent do we have one monopoly supplier that had its licence withdrawn for breaking the rules, but we're just going to let it have effectively another name, but very similar staff and a very similar approach?

Graham Widdecombe: We were very anxious to avoid that, otherwise we wouldn't have withdrawn the authority for Pro-Tect. So we are satisfied that, in public safety terms and in terms of the way they're going to conduct their business for the future, that they will have learned their lessons from that and that they will be able to continue with their technical expertise, which is one important factor, but that they won't repeat the mistakes of the past. We will certainly be watching them very closely to make sure that this isn't just Pro-Tect under another name.

Chair: Thank you, Mr Widdecombe. I think the Committee is not absolutely as satisfied as you are, because we've heard about this for the first time. We would be most grateful if you could send us the information that I alluded to. In fact, I will write to you after this meeting asking for certain information. It would be very helpful.

Mr Winnick: About the company?

Chair: About the company, Mr Winnick, yes. Thank you very much for coming in. I'm sorry that we may have been robust in our questioning, but that is the role of the Select Committee, as you will understand. We will have an opportunity of putting even more robust questions to the Home Secretary next Tuesday. Thank you very much for coming in.


2   Note by witness: As I stated in my answer, DOMILL is still considering the medical implications of Taser discharge administered through probes on the chest, but has not yet finalised its opinion. They are currently preparing a sixth medical statement which will consider the medical implications of Taser use based upon the latest scientific, medical and operational information. Among the various topics considered will be application of Taser discharge to the chest. Additionally, it should be made clear that DOMILL does not decide on the point of aim, which is a training and operational decision for the police, but their advice will inform this decision.

It is also worth clarifying the current status of DOMILL. DOMILL has been superseded by SACMILL (the Scientific Advisory Committee on the Medical Implications of Less Lethal Weapons). SACMILL will undertake essentially the same function as DOMILL. Unlike DOMILL, SACMILL is not a sub-committee of DSAC (which will make tasking from, and advice to, non-MoD departments more streamlined). For administrative reasons, SACMILL is not yet an operational committee. Until it becomes one, DOMILL members have agreed to continue to provide advice to the Government Back


 
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