PUBLIC ORDER MoD admits firing the wrong sort of bullets

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Soldiers and police in Northern Ireland have been firing faulty plastic bullets for the past three years, the Ministry of Defence admitted yesterday. The batch of 284,500 plastic baton rounds was withdrawn in April after tests revealed that a third of them were firing faster than the permitted maximum of 156 miles per hour.

During last summer's disturbances in the province, a total of 9,000 rounds of plastic bullets were fired both by the army and by the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

MoD sources said yesterday that they believed about 100 people had been injured by the weapons in the past three years, but civil liberties campaigners put the total much higher. There are three outstanding compensation claims, but it is thought unlikely that the claimants will be able to prove the bullets which hit them were faulty.

In a written Parliamentary answer, the Defence Minister, John Spellar, said that the Government would keep the use of plastic bullets under continuous review. In future stocks would be tested regularly to ensure that they continue to conform to specification, he added. Fran Abrams