HC 1456 Home Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Amnesty International UK and the Omega Research Foundation

1. Amnesty International is a worldwide movement of people who campaign for internationally recognised human rights to be respected and protected. Our vision is for every person to enjoy all of the human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights standards. Our mission is to conduct research and take action to prevent and end grave abuses of all rights—civil, political, social, cultural and economic. From freedom of expression and association to physical and mental integrity, from discrimination to the right to shelter—these rights are indivisible.

2. The Omega Research Foundation (Omega) is an independent, UK based research organisation which provides rigorous, objective, evidence-based research on the manufacture, trade, and use of military, security and police (MSP) technologies. We currently receive funding from the European Commission for a project on the appropriate use of force and policing equipment by law enforcement agencies in a range of situations, including crowd control. This short submission draws on the interim findings of this project.

3. We address several aspects of the inquiry, namely: the techniques used by the police to address the disturbances, particularly deployment of non-standard techniques; the legislation regulating normal policing processes and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) and Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO)/National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) public order guidance. We make recommendations concerning:

The process for approving new weaponry, and the degree of discretion afforded to Police Chiefs.

ACPO/NPIA guidance on Attenuating Energy Projectiles and Counter Strike (CS) Smoke.

The types of weaponry under discussion for potential police use.

Non-standard Technologies: The Role of Police Chiefs

4. The discussion around, and public pressure for, the introduction of additional policing technologies to deal with the recent disturbances was intense. A You Gov poll found that 90% of those polled supported the use of water cannon, and over 70% supported the use of Taser and tear gas. Against this backdrop, the various police forces engaged in containing the recent disturbances should be commended for handling the situation without having recourse to additional weaponry. This notwithstanding, Amnesty International UK and Omega have concerns about the use of non-standard technologies.

5. Previous evidence to this committee has revealed that police chiefs have considerable discretion to select the equipment in use by their force. There is nothing in statute that specifies what the police can or cannot use. Indeed, Section 54 of the Firearms Act of 1968 enables police officers to “purchase or acquire firearms and ammunition for the public service without holding a certificate”. Statutory Guidance—the 2003 Home Office Code of Practice on Police use of Firearms and Less Lethal Weapons, sections 3.2 and 4.1—which Chief Police Officers must “have regard to”, gives them responsibility for “the acquisition of weapons requiring special authorisation for use in their force areas” and the power to decide “what types of weapons need to be available within their forces”.

6. The UK’s selection and testing process is widely regarded as one of the best in the world, with considerable technical and medical assessment. It uses a needs based, standards based process, testing technologies against operational requirements (eg for accuracy and precision) with technologies that fail to meet these standards not being authorised for use. It then subjects them to a separate medical assessment, including their impact on vulnerable population groups, before seeking Ministerial approval for their deployment.

7. Amnesty International UK and Omega are very concerned that this rigorous process, carefully developed over a number of years, can be so easily bypassed. Police chiefs have the ability to deploy equipment that may not have been given Ministerial approval, nor have passed the operational requirement test or meet the required standards of accuracy and consistency. Indeed, the equipment may not have been tested at all, nor had specific safeguards and guidance put in place for its use.

8. The deployment of the wireless electroshock projectile, the Extended Range Electro-Muscular Projectile (XREP), in the Raoul Moat case in 2010, is one incident which highlights these concerns. Testing commissioned by the UK’s own testing and selection agency, HOSDB, and published in 2009, had found the XREP to be inaccurate at 20 metres and to vary considerably in the length of electric shock delivered. Whilst some rounds were “electrically dead”, others delivered an electric shock for “more than five minutes after being activated”. Further testing in 2011 confirmed that the projectile was highly inaccurate, unable to hit the target at 12 metres, let alone the 30 meters advertised.

9. Allowing forces to use unapproved equipment asks them to make judgements on the medical and other impacts and risk of weapons that even medical specialists are sometimes hard-pushed to do. It also risks exposing officers to the potential dangers of using untried and ineffective weapons. Under these circumstances it is difficult to see how the police can discharge their legal obligation to ensure that the use of equipment is lawful, neccessary, reasonable and proportionate.

We recommend all necessary changes are put in place to ensure that Police Chiefs are only able to deploy technologies which have gone through a full testing, selection and evaluation process and received Ministerial approval.

One way of working towards this would be through a revised Code of Practice on Police Use of Firearms and Less Lethal Weapons. Consultations on revisions to the 2003 version of this Code were held in 2009. The Home Office has subsequently advised that “work on a revised version has been put on hold whilst Home Office officials work with key partners to understand how the Code’s of Practice are aligned with the onset of the Strategic Policing Requirement”. Amnesty International UK and Omega recommend that the review is restarted and these points are made explicit in the revised Code.

Guidance on Electro-Shock and Distance Weapons

10. Amnesty International UK and the Omega Research Foundation agree with the Home Affairs Select Committee recommendation that “the police continue their self-imposed ban on the use of Taser in public protest situations. More generally we urge the police to reject the use of “distance weapons” in policing demonstrations. Instead of investment in expensive equipment to give the police “distance” while policing large scale protests, we suggest that the money could be better spent on training for front-line officers and in the planning of operations, removing the need for such “distance weapons”.

11. The use of electroshock devices for crowd control presents several difficulties, including; the risk of danger to officers if the device does not incapacitate or if s/he is overwhelmed by the crowd, the danger of hitting individuals other than the target, the risk of inducing panic in the crowd more generally and difficulty ensuring the timely provision of medical assistance to individuals suffering adverse consequences.

In his evidence to this Committee in December 2010 Simon Chesterton, ACPO lead, noted that the “national guidance is that Taser should not be used in relation to public demonstrations”, and Amnesty International UK and Omega recommend that this be made more explicit in ACPO guidance relating to crowd control and the use of Taser.

12. Moreover other “distance weapons”, although currently not used in UK policing, are being reviewed by the Centre for Applied Science and Technology (CAST). A report by CAST’s predecessor, the Home Office Scientific Development Branch, states that directed energy weapons—including ocular weapons and millimetre waves—”could in the future provide a capability for the UK Police to engage individuals at a greater range and with more precision than is currently achievable”. Acoustic weapons such as the Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) have been used for crowd control in Canada and the USA, although not without controversy. Such weapons have serious medical and human rights implications. Their introduction would also represent a significant deviation from the British model of policing.

13. Acoustic weapons are relatively indiscriminate, targeting sections of the crowd instead of targeting specific individuals within it, and the same level of exposure has been reported to affect individuals differently. Studies have noted “very high variable individual sensitivity” to acoustic weapons, with noise induced hearing loss seeming to occur randomly. There are also a number of health risks associated with the use of such weapons, particularly at close range, loud volume and/or excessive lengths of time. Such risks range from temporary pain to permanent hearing damage.

14. Whilst millimetre wave systems are designed to produce nothing more than pain, or possibly short term redness or blistering, longer exposure, especially one at higher power, could lead to second or third degree burns. If such burns occur over 20% or more of the body they become life threatening and require specialist burns treatment. At least one such exposure was reported during official testing and the risk of such consequences may be exacerbated in crowd situations where individuals may be unable to move out of the way of the beam.

We recommend that ACPO guidance states more explicitly that electro-shock devices are inappropriate for crowd control.

We agree with the Committee’s earlier recommendation on the use of “distance weapons” for crowd control and recommend further that there is specific reference to emerging technologies such as acoustic and millimetre wave weapons.

Guidance on Attenuating Energy Projectiles (AEPs) and Watercanon

15. Amnesty International UK and Omega note that the police decision to refrain from using water cannon was appropriate under the circumstances; indeed, as Sir Hugh Orde noted, it was not suitable for this type of disturbance. Further, the ACPO/APCOS/NPIA Manual of Guidance on Keeping the Peace (hitherto referred to as Keeping the Peace) states that a possible criteria for use of Attenuating Energy Projectiles (AEP) include “situations of serious public disorder where there is the potential for loss of life, serious injury or widespread destruction. Whilst the police were thus enabled to use AEPs, their decision to refrain from doing so was appropriate under the circumstances. Indeed, as the ACPO Attenuating Energy Projectile (AEP) Guidance (amended 16 May 2005) notes, “the AEP has not been designed for use as a crowd control technology but has been designed for use as a less lethal option in situations where officers are faced with individual aggressors whether such aggressors are acting on their own or as part of a group”.

16. AEPs were introduced as a safer alternative to their predecessor, the L21A1 plastic baton round. However, an analysis of the injury patterns caused by the AEP highlighted an unexpectedly high rate of serious injuries to the head and upper body which contradicted previous research. The study found that “the AEP requires ongoing evaluation, and it is too early to conclude that it provides a safer alternative to the L21A1.”

We recommend that further research and evaluation is undertaken into the AEP in order to better understand the associated injury pattern and risks.

Guidance on CS Smoke

17. Keeping the Peace provides, in part, thatCS smoke” may be used “in serious public disorder, as a last resort, where loss of life, serious injury and widespread damage are likely”. Amnesty International UK and Omega understand that the device authorised for use is a CS irritant pyrotechnic hand grenade, whilst the development of a Discriminating Irritant Projectile (DIP) is also ongoing.

18. The use of CS needs further research. CS can be particularly dangerous—possibly even lethal—in enclosed spaces. One study found that, although “in most situations the amount of injury is small”; “riot control agents sometimes cause permanent injury or death, especially when used in enclosed spaces or against those with existing cardiopulmonary compromise”. An independent report into deaths following the use of CS in confined spaces in the USA found that “there is a distinct possibility that this kind of CS exposure can significantly contribute to or even cause lethal effects”, if people are unable to leave the most exposed areas. Other reports have shown that inhalation of high concentrations of CS could result in “fatal pulmonary oedema” and have highlighted “the very real risk of causing burns and serious injury” if used in an enclosed area. This makes its use particularly problematic for use in large scale disorder situations like the recent riots, where individuals are likely to be in enclosed spaces (eg shops and other buildings). Some research has also indicated the potential health risks including the heightened possibility of longer lasting consequences if individuals are wet or have wet clothing.

19. The use of grenades also needs further research. One report by the Borden Institute of the US Army Medical Department found that “the metabolic effects and health issues associated with acute CS exposure and its hydrolysis products appear to have been thoroughly studied; however, recent investigations into potentially harmful CS-derived compounds produced during thermal dispersion have raised new concerns. Many of these compounds have not been evaluated for their potential to produce acute or chronic effects.

We recommend that ACPO guidelines make explicit the delivery mechanisms that are authorised to be used in the deployment of CS smoke.

We recommend that the guidance notes the heightened risk that may be posed by interaction with water, as well as the risks associated with the use of grenades, and the danger of its use in confined spaces.

September 2011

Prepared 22nd December 2011