Examination of Witnesses (Questions 115-202)|
CHRISTIAN PAPALEONTIOU, GRAHAM WIDDECOMBE AND GRAHAM
7 DECEMBER 2010
Mr Papaleontiou, apologies first of all to you for my mispronounciation
of your name. Perhaps you can give me
It was a good effort. Christian Papaleontiou.
Chair: Papaleontiou, excellent.
I think we're familiar with Widdecombe and Smith from Strictly
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
inwe won't direct them specifically at any of youplease
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
iswhat 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 requirementfirst of all,
the easiest ones to do, obviouslyto 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
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.
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 DSTLDefence
Science and Technology Laboratories. They also do a constant screening
of cases around the world.
So to follow a practical example for the non-scientistsas
I said, Dr Huppert is our resident scientistyou 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
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.
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.
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
Chair: Where do you buy
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 oneat
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.
So you would have signed off the original authorisation for Pro-Tect?
Graham Smith: No.
You would have nothing to do with choosing the company?
Graham Smith: No.
All HOSDB does is purchase equipment for assessment. We don't
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
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
iswhether 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?
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
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?
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?
Can I explain the procurement process?
Chair: Yes, please.
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
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
In the world?
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
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?
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.
The Home Office is a very big organisation. Who in the Home OfficeI
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.
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.
Excellent. So it was you; you signed this off?
We signed off the section 5 authority.
When you say "we", who do you mean?
The Home Secretarythe Home Officeissues the section
5 authority, which is a requirement.
On your advice?
Indeed. On the basis that what we look at is that there is an
established business need andas Christian was sayingthat
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.
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.
But we're not the end user. The end user is the police. They're
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?
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.
So what is the point of getting a section 5 authority?
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.
So, once you sign this off and you say that they're okay, does
an individual police forcelike Kent, for examplehave
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"?
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.
What Mr McCabe wants to know is: can they buy from anyone else
without a section 5 certificate?
So the section 5 certificate is kind of an imprint of approval"You
can buy from this guy"?
So you signed off authorisation for the 43 police forces?
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
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?
When you decided to suspend this licence, as the Home Secretary
did, this was on your advice, was it?
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 policesenior
police of coursethat 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?
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
Q143 Mr Winnick:
So it would bethe words that I usedin extreme circumstances,
Q144 Mr Winnick:
Therefore, are you of the viewthat is the Home Office,
your section, and presumably the Home Secretarythat Tasers
should not be used in policing demonstrations?
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
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 viewI want to be absolutely
clear on this, in so far as you can be absolutely clear in giving
an answerthat Tasers should be not used by the police in
policing these demonstrations?
Tasers should not be used by the police in policing demonstrations.
I think Mr Winnick wants a yes or no. Is that a yes?
Q147 Mark Reckless:
I can't quite remember which witness said which commentsI
hope you'll forgive me for thatbut 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.
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?
No, the Home Office code of practice is guidance that chief officers
must have regard to, not must comply withthere 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?
Q150 Dr Huppert:
Can I come back to information we've had from ACPO as wellthey
seem to come up rather oftenabout chest shots. As I mentioned
earlierI think you were in the roomTaser 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 shortlythey have five statements
at the momentthat will incorporate a number of different
factors that they've been looking at over the past two years,
which will update the guidance.
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 forceI thinkwere
given some X12 shotguns as an emergency operation because they
needed to be used immediately. Does that bring any concerns for
Graham Smith: For
the Taser X26 and the M26its predecessorthe 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.
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
Q153 Mr Burley:
I heard what you were saying, and ACPO said the same, that Tasers
should be used only in extreme caseswhen 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 Tasergiven we've heard ACPO say that it should only
be used in extreme lethal conditionsand 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
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
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
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 accuracya 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'tor couldn'tafford 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
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 experienceit 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 downyou'll see when I pass it roundthere
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 workit 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.
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
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
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
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 Englishin 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.
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 thatI think it's from the Taser
International siteit 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
Q164 Steve McCabe:
The Taser Shockwave, as I understand it, is a weapon specifically
designed to help disperse crowds. You have onethe Home
Office Scientific and Development Branch have onebut 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 havenot 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.
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?
In answer to Ms Phillipson, are you saying that there will be
no shortage of Tasers and there will be no shortage of cartridges?
The company has now been granted a section 5 authority.
Yes. Sorry, I will come to the company in a minute. Can somebody
answer my question?
Just to explain the process very quickly: the company now needs
to get an export licence.
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,
Now you can tell us about the process.
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.
From whom do they get that licence?
From the appropriate Government Department in the United States.
You mean the business Department of the Government?
Yes, of the US.
Mr McCabe's questions: surely, as they have been supplying these
guns and ammunition for the last few years, they must have such
The export licence will be specific to the new company that they're
What is the name of the new company?
TSRTactical Safety Responses.
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?
Yes, indeed and that's what we have been doing.
You have, Mr 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
How long has the company been in existence?
This is a newly formed company.
Chair: A newly formed
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
That's purely because that's where they are based.
But also they did the so-called independent inquiry into Pro-Tect,
did they not? Wasn't it a Northamptonshire inquiry into Pro-Tect?
Yes, indeed, because Pro-Tect were also based in Northampton.
Are any of the former employees of Pro-Tect involved in this company?
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.
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?
Yes, but we made it quite clear
Yes? And you think that's satisfactory?
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 areasI 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.
Q185 Steve McCabe:
Did you consider the idea of a fresh start and a clean slate?
Can you understand why someonemaybe more suspicious than
mewould think this sounds a wee bit cosy and collusive?
Did you consider the possibility that maybe it would have been
smarter to go wider?
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.
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?
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
It's about both, I think.
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 isexcuse
the puna shotgun marriage? This is actually what you're
trying to do: get someone in place very quickly without the necessary
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 wouldas Christian
was sayingput 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?
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.
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?
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.
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
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
Q197 Alun Michael:
Can you not? There are many situations where Government policy
does make manufacturers supply via a variety of suppliers.
Sorry, I'm not aware of those arrangements.
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?
There are conditions on the sale to police forces.
Just to the police force but not to a manufacturer who wishes
to supply to this country?
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?
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
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 ResponsesI think that is the
nameare 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?
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
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?
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
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