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Ambulance crews get bullet-proof vests

AMBULANCE crews in Manchester have been issued with bulletproof vests to protect them when they answer emergency calls in trouble-spots, it emerged last night.

The service denied that the pilot scheme was in response to the rise of gangland activity in Moss Side, which has been dubbed 'Britain's Bronx'.

'We don't feel this is a kneejerk reaction to the Moss Side situation,' a spokesman said. 'It is in response to the rising number of violent incidents we have attended. We deal with many cases of assault involving knives, sticks and fists throughout Greater Manchester. We want our staff to remain impartial and respond to all incidents in the same manner.'

In a trial over the last two months 40 paramedics have been using body armour designed to withstand a 9mm bullet, a shotgun blast or a knife attack. A decision about whether to adopt the protection on a permanent basis for all the city's 530 front-line ambulance staff is expected within a month.

The service said that it had not made a public announcement about the trial because it wanted to keep it 'low profile'.

David Blunkett, Labour's spokesman on health, said the move was 'a reflection of a disintegrating society which fails to build on a caring community and instead ends up issuing flak jackets to those tending the sick. Instead of spending money on bullet-proof jackets, it is time to rebuild a spirit of community'.

Fears about spiralling lawlessness in Moss Side came to a head at the beginning of last year when a 14- year-old schoolboy, John Stanley, known to his friends as Benji, was gunned down as he queued in a takeaway food shop.